Graeco – Nilotic Complex: Luo presence in the Aegean and their influence on Greek  Civilization

The identity of the people who influenced ancient Greek civilization has been the subject of an intense debate. On the one hand, the ancient model suggests that the indigenous population of Greece was civilized by the Egyptian and Phoenician colonists. On the other, the opposing Aryan model suggests that Greek culture arose as a direct outcome of the conquest by Indo-Europeans of the pre-hellene natives. Lately, in an attempt to reconcile the two models, Martin Bernal has added the ‘Revised Ancient Model’. Interestingly, the people who had exerted an influence on the civilization of the Greeks left behind, both linguistic evidence as well as specimens of the instruments of their labour. Specifically, they left behind the names of the gods they worshipped and the types of musical instruments they played. This paper is an intervention into the debate on the identity of the people who exerted some considerable influence on the foundation of Greek civilization. It presents an argument to show that the African people known as the Luos had settled in the Aegean region and exerted the civilizing influence on the ancient Greeks.


Martin Bernal

Martin Bernal

Martin Bernal (1987) noted that racism was a significant source of hostility towards the Ancient Model which considered Egypt to be the original source of Greek civilization. From the late 18th to early 19th century, the hostility was intensified by Christians who challenged and dismissed the contribution of Ancient Egypt towards Greek civilization. During the same period, the Phoenicians were even de-linked from Ancient Egyptians and considered as Semites and Jews of the Ancient World.

The denigration of the Ancient Model followed the triumphant European colonialism in the Africa Asia and the so-called New Worlds. Colonial conquest and domination was seen as the progress of the most advanced and dynamic people over those who were static and of a lower racial status. Coincidentally, as opposition towards the Ancient Model increased in Europe, the same paradigms of ‘race’ and ‘progress’ were being applied by Euro-American scholars to explain the origin of the Ancient Egyptian civilization. In his explanation Seligman (1903) suggested that pastoral Europeans known as ‘Hamites’ were the very builders of the Egyptian civilization. Seligman and like minded Africanists of the time were vehemently opposed to the idea that the Nilotic-Luos were the founders of the Itiyopian and Egyptian civilisations. The paradigms of ‘race’ and ‘progress’ through which the Aryan and the Hamitic models were developed and promoted at the expense of the Ancient and the Nilotic models were a major impediment to the identification of the people who influenced the Greek civilization. Consequently, Maas and Snyder (1989) in their search for the origins of the varieties of Greek musical instruments lamented that, “….  how they came to be known in Greek lands have thus far proved unanswerable” (Maas and Snyder, 1989, p.XV). The answer to the question posed by Maas and Snyder is quite easy once the Ancient model is reconsidered.

In this paper, we argue that the people who influenced the emergence of Greek civilization were the Nilotic Africans commonly known as the Luo. The Luos had founded the Itiyopian kingdom which expanded its rule into lower- Egypt. Colonization and expansion of Ancient Egypt brought Luo influences and civilization to Greece. It will be argued that the Luos left a widespread linguistic marks as well as physical artifacts in instruments of labour in Ancient Greece. The paper is divided into five parts. In the second part we examine the Luo in Greek historiography; section three looks at a variety of stringed instruments in Ancient Greece with the view to tracing their origins to the Luos; the Gods worshipped in Ancient Greece is discussed in section four, where it is pointed out that the Gods bore Luo names. In section five the Luos will be identified as the Phoenicians. This section is followed by conclusions.

2.0 The Aryanists on the ‘Hellenization’ of the Luo

Diop (1974), Houston (1985) and others have argued that the Cushitic kingdom of Meroe and Napata was the origin of Egyptian civilization. From an early period, the Greeks were quite familiar with its power and influence. Houston (1985), noted that “Ethiopia was the source of all that Egypt knew and transmitted to Greece and Rome” (Houston, 1985, p.17). Similarly, Baldwin wrote of the Ethiopians that,

“ at a period equally remote, they glimmer in Greek mythology. When the Greeks scarcely knew Italy and Sicily by name, the Ethiopians were celebrated in the verses of their poets; and when the faint gleam of tradition and fable gives way to the clear light of history, the luster of the Ethiopians is not diminished” (J.D. Baldwin 1869, p.62).

In other words, prior to the Itiyopian incursion, the ancient Greeks had hardly travelled beyond their borders. According to Bernal, the Greeks were particularly familiar with influence of Kushitic priests and their religion, “The cult of Ddwn was very closely related to that of Imn/Amon who himself had strong Nubian, Ethiopian and Southern Egyptian connections, seen in Greek tradition in Zeus’ special relationship with the Ethiopians” (Bernal, 1991, p.260). The Itiyopian/Luo origin of Greek religion will be discussed further down. However, it has must be noted that the terms Nubian and Ethiopian when used interchangeably tended to obscure the identity of the ancient Itiyopians (Ethiopians). The name Nubia is a modern invention for old Ethiopia. Houston (1985) particularly pointed out that, “The term Nubia was unknown to the ancients. Everything to the south of Egypt was called Ethiopia, the land of the dark races. ….” (Houston, 1985, p.63). Elsewhere, this writer has suggested that the founders of the Cushitic kingdom were the Itiyopians or Luos. Once Nubians are confused with Ethiopians, then a linguistic historical analysis is jeopardized as the Luos could be lined up as Nubians who were unknown to the ancients.

Despite an abundant wealth of credible linguistic, documentary and archaeological evidence which the Luos left in Greece, their influences on Greek civilization has neither been recognized nor specified. Instead, owing to the triumph of the Aryanist in the 19th century, the Luos/ Itiyopians were portrayed as having been ‘Hellenised’, having absorbed most of Greek culture. For example, in ‘Philhellene Ergamenos’ J. Leclant (1990), wrote, “ After writing of the all-powerful position of the Kushite priests, who could even constrain the king to commit suicide if he had ceased to please the people, Diodorus of Sicily relates how a sovereign steeped in Greek culture, Erogamenos, dared fight back and had a number of priests put to death ….” (Leclant, 1990, p.165). Philhellenism developed in the early 19th century as the atheist and a radical political wing of Europe’s Romanticist movement. Followers expressed great love for and considered Greek states as models of liberty. In Germany, Hegel and later, the young Hegelians including Marx, expressed great love and affection for Greece. Their love for ancient Greece was only matched by their hatred of ancient Egypt. Bernal explained the ambiguous position of the Philhellenes when he wrote, “It should be noted, however that the idea of Greece emerging from Egypt implies an acceptance of the Ancient model which later Philhellenes were unwilling to concede.” (Bernal, 1987, p.290). Though he wrote about ‘Philhellene Ergamenos’, Leclant neither identified the monarch nor explained the meaning of the term ‘Ergamenos’. He later confessed that, “Doubts nevertheless subsist as to the identity of Ergamenos” (Leclant, 1990, p.165). The existence of doubt about the monarch’s identity can be attributable to the fact that a Luo-based linguistic analysis has not been conducted.  Consequently, the etymology of the term ‘Erogamenos’, has never been examined. For a correct understanding of the meaning of the Luo term ‘Ergamenos’ it is necessary to revisit the Theban system of thoughts.

According to the Theban Cosmogony, the process of self-evolution transformed ‘Nu’, the primordial watery mass into ‘Ra’ which then completed the creation of the universe (Diop, 1981). Ra then created the opposing principles or pairs in nature:

Kwik        +        Kuek =   primordial darkness and its opposite light

In the Luo dialect of the Acholi, the darkest object was likened to the Ox pecker bird known as O’Kuik (Crazzolara, 1938, p.349). At the same time they use the terms ‘piny kuek’ to describe an activity that goes on throughout the night until day light.

Nono        +        Nune =  void/emptiness and its opposite matter/primordial water

In their salutation which centers on the universe, the Kavirondo Luos make reference to the opposing principles in nature that were created by ‘Ra’

Oyaure      +       Oyimure = spatial infinite opening and its opposite finite spatial closure

Atum         +      Amen= (‘the closer’, ‘finisher’ or the conception of sun after creation and its

Opposite the master of eternity and of everlastingness)

The Luos usually conclude a salutation by saying ‘Ero-ka-ma-no’. ‘e- ro’ is an adjective which means there (is). ‘Kama-no’ is also another adjective which means, like that, so, thus, in this very manner’ (Creider, 1994). Ero kameno simply refers to the dialectical process of infinite spatial opening and finite spatial closure that shall continue ‘in that very manner’. Thus, ‘Ergamenos’ was a mis-pronounciation and mis-spelling of ‘E-ro kameno’, uttered so often by the Luos at the closure of salutations and used as a nick name for the ancient royals. A similar phrase was used by the prince of Mendes in lower Egypt. During the reign of Pharaoh Petoubastic, a prince known as ‘Kameno-Phis’, likened himself to Apis the symbol of valour, virility and might in battle (Lewis Spence, 1919, p.240-245). He had seized the shield of a rival chief Pakrourou and provoked a civil war in the delta region. ‘Kameno’ became a common phrase in the Ancient Egyptian dialect.

Jean Leclant

Jean Leclant

As Leclant (1990) suggested, a monarch bearing the nick name ‘Ergameno’ ruled Itiyopia between 250 – 125 BC. That was the period when the Macedonian-Greeks ruled over Egypt. It was the period the Nilotics had lost control of Egypt and Meroe their original grant court of civilization was being threatened by the foreign rulers in Egypt. It was during this period that, ‘Ergameno’ was credited with bringing about a ‘constitutional’ reform. He specifically brought to an end, the practice of royal suicide where Pharaohs were killed after a period of about 10 to 20 years of rule. In ‘Philhellene Ergamenos’, Leclant suggested that, ‘Ergamenos’ had learnt, adopted, appreciated and was full of love for Greek culture. More precisely, he would want us to believe that the Greeks had influenced cultural development in the Kushitic kingdom of Meroe and that the entire Kushites were beneficiaries of Greek culture under “ the renaissance which appears to mark the succeeding decades ….” (Leclant, 1990, p.165). Leclant seems to have adopted a rather ‘Extreme Aryanist’ position, ignoring the accounts of earlier writers. For example, Herodotus pointed out that it was the Egyptians and the Phoenicians who introduced civilization to the Greeks and not the other way round. Referring specifically to religious ceremonies, he asserted that, “I will never admit that the similar ceremonies performed in Greece and Egypt are the results of mere coincidences – had that been so, our rites would have been more Greek in character and less recent in origin. Nor will I allow that the Egyptian ever took over from Greece either this custom or any other” 1. In any case, the guiding ideological principle of governance was ‘MAATI’ (or MAAT) the principle of the perfectibility of man in society. According to E.A. Wallis Budge, “There is no one word which will exactly describe the Egyptian conception of Maat both from a physical and from a moral point of view; but the fundamental idea of the word is “straight”, and from the Egyptian texts it is clear that maat meant right, true, truth, real, genuine, upright, righteous, just, steadfast, unalterable, etc.” (Budge, 1994, p. cxix). Coincidentally, MAAT is Luo in origin. The word ‘ATI’ in Luo means, right, straight, just, true’. ‘MA’ is a prefix meaning ‘which is’. Therefore, ‘Maati’ was used to depict; righteousness, justice and the truth. Ironically, in modern times, the young Hegelian Marx later became the leading champion for justice amongst the working class. Even if electoral democracy was not practiced, individual and property rights were respected (J.R.Harris, 1988) and the rule of law based on maat was strictly observed. If anything, the Hellenes had negligible impact in Lower Egypt in which they were entrenched.

According to J.R. Harris,

“Egypt was ‘made use of’ by the Greeks rather than that she was ‘Hellenized’, for although there were several areas of contacts it can, I think, be shown that the Egypt which, through its Greek kings and immigrants, realized some of the aims of the classical city states and that other Egypt which remained centred upon its temples and villages existed side by side without mixing at all closely” (J.R.Harris, 1988, p323).

In other words, the impact of Greek intrusion was negligible and non beneficial to the Egyptians. Further south, beyond the second cataract in Itiyopia, Hellenist intrusion had been fiercely resisted from the on-set by “Queen Candace, world famous as a military tactician and field commander (Williams, 1987, p.118). Therefore, the alleged ‘Hellenisation’ of an Ethiopian monarch was an Aryanist creation. It was calculated to weaken the ancient model even though ‘dialectics’ the philosophical system that Philhellenist Frederick Hegel promoted, had its origin in ancient Egypt. Above all, the alleged ‘Hellenisation’ was intended to de-link the Nilotics/Luos from ancient Egypt and obscure their influence on the Greeks.

Available historical evidence suggests that Luo influence in Greece did not start during the Hellenist period (the last three centuries BC).  It dates back to the Archaic period (8th to the 6th centuries B.C) and the Classical (5th and 4th centuries) archaic period. Their influence on the Greek is visible in the stringed instruments they left on the island and will be discussed below.

3.0 Luos and the Stringed instruments of Ancient Greece.

  1. Djait (1981), a Tunisian historian who participated in the drafting of aGeneral History of Africa pointed out that history leaves marks in a variety of forms: written documents (drawn or printed in conventional signs on support such as papyrus, parchment, bone, wood, paper) archaeology, linguistics and oral tradition. Similarly, McNeal (1972), had specifically suggested that the Ancient history of the Aegean be studied through: archaeological artifacts, language, skeleton material and myth and legend (McNeal, 1972, p.20). One of the most important archaeological artifacts are the instruments of labour and was acknowledged byMarx who wrote that, “Relics of by gone instruments of the labour process has the same importance for the investigation of extinct economic forms of society as do fossil bones for the determination of extinct species of animals” (Marx, Capital 1:179). The instruments of labour I have picked on to shed light on the identity of those who influenced ancient Greece history are the musical instruments. Though in an inconclusive manner, an investigation on the subject has been undertaken by M. Maas and J. M. Snyder who wrote that,
Professor Hisham Djait

Professor Hisham Djait

“No ancient culture has left us more tantalising glimpse of its music than that of the Greeks, whose art and literature speak to us again and again of the role of music, its power, and its importance to their society…. The ancient Greeks, and their fore forerunners and neighbours in the land surrounding the Aegean sea, knew three types of stringed instruments: the lyre, the harp and the lute. …. we cannot attribute the origin of any of these instrument types to people living in the Aegean area, for the evidence indicates that lyres, harps, and lutes all existed in Mesopotamia and Egypt even earlier than in the area that was to become Greece, the questions about how they came to be known in Greek lands have thus proved unanswerable”. (M. Maas and J. M. Snyder, 1989. P. XV).

An instrument which produces sound by way of vibrating string or strings stretched between two points is known as a chordophone. In practice, the strings could be set into motion through plucking (like a harp), strumming (like a guitar) or rubbing with bow (like a violin). In ancient Greece chordophones included the lyre, the harp and the lute. Of the three instruments, the lyre remained the most popular instrument in the ancient Greek world. Lyra is a generic term used to describe any instrument of the lyre family such as the kithara, chelys-lyra and barbitos. As pointed out by Maas and Snyder, the harp, lute and lyre existed in both Egypt and Mesopotamia before appearing in Greece. This writer has argued elsewhere that the Luos were the founders of the Ancient Itiyopian and Egyptian civilizations. In addressing the question that proved unanswerable to Maas and Snyder we will present the evidence to support the contention that it was through Luo colonization that musical instruments such as the kithara, chelys-lyra and barbitos became known to the Greeks. Luo basis of the origin of each instrument will be discussed below starting with the Kithara.

  1. 0.1 The Kithara

The Kithara was (is) a musical instrument with strings of equal length attached to a cross bar supported by two arms. The two arms enter a sound-box and rest against the edge or rim of the box. In design, the arms and the yoke may or may not be arranged in a symmetrical way. The strings which may number from five to eight are fixed to a tail piece. The evidence of the prevalence of the kithara in ancient Greeks is recorded in vase paintings.  They mostly appear in scenes in which the god Apollo was depicted. According to  Maas and Snyder,

The Kithara

The Kithara

“…. Kithara was primarily the professional’s lyra i.e. it had a significant role in state religious festivals and contests, and that it was played exclusively by male performers. …. As to the origins of the word kithara and kitharis however, we have no conclusive evidence. …. the name was probably borrowed into Greek from some oriental language, a few scholars have attempted to make a case for a connection with specific Indo- European or Semitic roots” (Maas and Snyder, 1989:53).

In other words the Kithara players were often high performance instrumentalists who earned a living out of their artistry and skills. They performed during state functions, religious ceremonies, contests, and private functions such as weddings and other occasions. Maas and Snyder lamented that there were no archeological remains of the kithara thus hampering knowledge of the materials out of which the Kithara were constructed. Nevertheless they pointed out that the basic material was wood “There was practically no other suitable material available, and we can point to similar instruments of which remains have been found in Egypt that were of wooden construction” (p.66). Thus, the material required could have been imported and the instrument assembled in Greece or the instrument imported into Greece as a unit. Interestingly, an instrument with a similar name had existed in Ancient Egypt. According to J. Gardiner Wilkinson, “ …. The Egyptians had a sort of guitar with three chords ……..The guitar consisted of two parts: a long flat neck, or, and a hollow oval body, either wholly of wood or covered with parchment, having the upper surface perforated with holes to allow the sound to escape. Over this body, and the whole length of the handle were stretched three strings of catgut. ….” (J. Gardiner Wilkinson, 1996, p.123). In reference to the Egyptian guitar, he added that, “ It is from an ancient instrument of this kind, sometimes called kithara … , that the modern name guitar (chitarra) has been derived” (Wilkinson, 1996, p.124). Wilkinson was of the view that whereas the Kithara in Greece was a lyre, that in Egypt was some kind of a ‘lute’. Nevertheless Wilkinson suggests that the Egyptian origin of the kithara should be taken seriously.

Yet for Maas and Snyder, the origin of the word kithara was inconclusive. The inconclusiveness only arose due to a deliberate distortion about the founders of Egyptian civilization in which the influence of the Luo has been ignored. We can reveal that, the same word ‘kithara’ is found in the Nilotic-Luo language spoken in Eastern Africa today. For example, the Luos named their kingdom in the Great Lakes region as the ‘Kitara’. In recognition of this fact that Rev. Roscoe wrote, “The country of Kitara, which is now generally known as Bunyoro, was at one time the largest and most powerful of all autocratic kingdoms in the Lake regions of Central Africa …..” (Roscoe, 1923, p.1). He added that, “ … the days of its power, the kingdom bore its rightful name, that is Kitara, but of late years it has unfortunately been known by the name of Bunyoro ….” ( Roscoe, 1923, p.2). The Rev. J. Roscoe (1923) gave a precise location, stating that the empire lay between the longitude 30 to 50 degrees East and latitude 1 degree to 2.5 degrees North (Roscoe, 1923, p.1).

Furthermore, in his description of the identity of the people who founded the kitara empire in the Great Lakes region, renounced historians B.A. Ogot and J.A.. Kieran (1968) wrote, “ The number of Lwoo who went over to Kitara  must have been few, for they soon gave up their Lwoo language for the language of the Bantu-speaking peoples they ruled” (Ogot and Kieran, 1968, p.152).

May I confirm that the word kithara, often mis-spelled as kitara is of Luo origin and becomes apparent when the word is de-constructed. In the Luo language, ‘ki’ or ‘gi’ is a preposition placed before certain nouns and employed to emphasise and indicate the direct object. In the Luo dialect spoken by the Acholi, the seven- stringed musical instrument, the angular trough Zither is known as ‘kitara’ or ‘Nanga’. It was in this context that Fr. Crazzolara wrote, “taara, n. same as nanga, stringed instrument” (Crazzolara, 1938, p.390, My emphasis in italics). To emphasise the noun ‘ki’ is added to ‘tara’ to form ‘kitara’. The same word ‘kitara’ has been used by J.P. Ocitti (1973) to describe some longitudinal arrangements in parceling and apportioning land when he wrote, “Once the Aker area had been cultivated (usually sown with simsim or beans mixed with sorghum for the first time), its name changed to Kitara, which signified the neat arrangement of the gardens” (J.P. Ocitti, 1973, p.4)

British reconnaissance officer, Major Hannington Speke, held a long conversation with Rumanika, one of the regional governors of Kitara empire and reported,

“This conversation, diversified by numerous shrewd remarks on the part of Rumanika, led to his asking how I could account for the decline of countries, instancing the dismemberment of the Wahuma of Kitara, and remarking that formerly Karagwe including Urundi Ruanda and Kishakka, which collectively were known as the kingdom of Meru governed by one man” (Speke, 1863,p.226).

Consciously or unconsciously, Rumanika had put the question ‘what factors contribute to the decline of countries?” to an agent of the forces plotting the destruction of his country. Nevertheless, Rumanika suggested that Kitara had fragmented and was no longer the powerful kingdom it once was. He also confirmed that Kitara was a successor of the once powerful State known as Meru or Meroe. In other words, the founders of Kitara had relocated to present-day Uganda following the collapse of the Meroitic State in the Sudan. As we have argued elsewhere, Meroe was the Luo kingdom of Koch (Kush) which had expanded into Egypt. Kitara is thus a Luo word loaned to the Greeks. Tortoise-Lyra, another instrument that the Luos introduced to the Greeks is discussed below.

3 .0.2 The Chelys-Lyra (Tortoise – Lyra)

The Chelys-lyra is a six or seven stringed instrument with a sound-box made of tortoise shells, or in the shape of tortoise shells. Like the kithara, the Chelys-lyra was known in Greece during the archaic period through to the Hellenic period. The Chelys- lyra was popularly played during libation and was considered to be Apollo’s instrument. It was played by both men and women from small children to the elderly. In their description of the construction of the sound box, Maas and Snyder noted that, “the underside of the tortoise shell, which becomes the belly of the instrument, was apparently covered with thin hide, as are instruments of the lyre type in Africa today” (Maas and Snyder, p.95). They added that,

“Like most of the other names for stringed instruments in the Greek language, the word lyra appears to be a loan word borrowed into Greek from some other, probably non-Indo-European, language. Linguists are generally hesitant to connect the word with any known Indo-European roots and prefer to describe it as a term borrowed from some language of the Mediterranean area” (Maas and Snyder, p.80).

Whereas Mass and Snyder had difficulties in linking the instrument to a particular Mediterranean culture, J.G. Wilkinson, a British Egyptologist was able trace the inventor of the instrument and how it was invented:

“Mercury has always obtained the credit of its invention, both among the Egyptians and the Greeks; and Apollodorus gravely explains how it came into his head; “The Nile”, he says, after having overflowed the whole land of Egypt, returned once more within its banks, leaving on the shore a great number of dead animals of various kinds, among the rest a tortoise its flesh was quite dried up  by the hot Egyptian sun, so that nothing remained within the shell but nerves and cartilages; and these being braced and contracted by the heat, had become sonorous. Mercury walking by the river side, happened to strike his foot against this shell, and was pleased with the sound it produced, that the idea  of a lyre presented itself to his imagination” (J.G. Wilkinson, 1996, p. 114-115).

Mercury was the Roman name of the Greek god Hermes, who was considered an inventor and the quick messenger of god.  The same Hermes was the very son of Zeus. In Egypt, Hermes was known as Thoth, the moon god and one credited with authoring the sacred books and being the master of magic. Thus, it is apparent that Mercury, Hermes and Thoth are one and the same god. In both Egypt and Greece, Mercury is credited with the invention. However, from the account provided by Wilkinson and other writers, it would appear that the instrument was first invented in Egypt. The lyre’s Egyptian origin was confirmed by Manniche’s who noted “Thoth is claimed to have invented the lyre, and its strings were said to have been made of the gut of seth . …. The decoration of some lyre with the head of a goose may again suggest a connection with Amun” (Manniche, 1975, p. 91). As for the period when the instrument first appeared in Egypt, Manniche maintained, “In the old kingdom, the end-blown flute was important, whereas in the New Kingdom the harp was joined by lutes and lyres” (Manniche, 1991, p. 25). The eighteenth dynasty begun which started in around 1580 BC developed the New Kingdom of Pharaonic   Egypt. However, if Thoth was the inventor, then the instrument must have appeared in Egypt much earlier. From the accounts provided by Wilkinson and Manniche, it is safe to conclude that the Tortoise-lyra was exported to Greece from ancient Egypt.

Coincidentally, the same instruments and names associated with them have also been found to exist in Eastern Africa. According to Trowell and Wachsmann (1953) who were curators of the Ugandan museum “The modern instrument in Uganda corresponds to the ‘lyra’ in Greece, the plain and unsophisticated type ….” (Trowell and Wachsmann, 1953, p.400). Elsewhere, they noted that, “The use of the ‘lyre’ as solo instrument is especially noticeable in migrating companies of Luo labourers from Kavirondo, who are very fond of it and whose musical life it seems to dominate” (Trowell and Wachsmann, 1953, p.404). The Kavirondo Luos are the Kenyan Luos of Nyanza province who provided labour to the colonial industries of Uganda. The Luos who had founded the Itiyopian and Egyptian civilization migrated to East Africa and must have brought the tortoise-lyra with them. Apart from the Kithara and the tortoise-lyra, the Greeks imported other instruments from the Egyptian/Luos.

The Barbitos

Besides the kithara and the Chelys- lyra, the other popular stringed instrument of ancient Greece was the barbito. Most barbitos were seven-stringed, though some had five or six and others had even eight. The barbito was played by both men and women to pass time at home. It was associated with festivities and was also “linked in the Greek mind with the pleasurable combination of wine and song” (Maas and Snyder, p.121). Like the kithara and the tortoise-lyra, the barbito was not an indigenous innovation. In confirmation, Maas and Snyder had this to say: “Despite its exotic status, as a recent foreign importation, the babirtos is mentioned many times in Greek literature of the Classical period, often with allusions to its function as the chief instrument (besides the aulos) of the symposium” ( Mass and Snyder, p.113). At musical festivals, the barbito was one of the most indispensable instruments. However, like kithara, the origin of the loan word ‘barbito’ has been muddled Aryanist scholars. Again, the work of Maas and Snyder is quite revealing:

“…. In discussing the Asiatic background of Greek music, the first century B. C geographer Strabo, speaks of the Influence of Phrygian and other such peoples in connection with the kithara and the aulos and includes the Barbitos in a list of Greek instruments that bear foreign names. This remark, along with lack of related word in any Indo-European language, has led to the conclusion that the instrument’s name is unknown, perhaps Phrygian origin” (Maas and Snyder, 1989:113).

The people the Greeks called Phrygians were Indo-Europeans who settled in North-western Anatolia, modern day central Turkey in 1200 BC. Though Strabo spoke of the influence of the Phrygians on the Greeks, he also spoke of the influence of other such peoples. Earlier, we noted that kithara was a Luo word. The other such people who may be settlers, invaders, conquerors and colonizers have not been identified. Despite the fact that the word barbito was not found in any Indo-European language, speculation still persisted that its origin was Phrygian. Such a claim was designed to give the impression that Indo-Europeans had civilized the Greeks. It was specifically designed to obscure the role and influence of ancient Egyptians/Luos which had otherwise been noted by Maas and Snyder:

“The fifth alter scene with a babirtos shows Heracles killing Busiris (Paris G 50); on the left a young man holding the instrument flees from the alter area where the murder is taking place. This event was a subject of a number of vase paintings, in some of which a lyre of one sort or another is shown. The babirtos is found only in this instance, however; and the god worshipped by Busiris, according to Herodotus, was the Egyptian equivalent, not of Dionysos, but of Zeus” (Maas and Snyder, p.114).

Heracles was (is) the Roman name of the greatest Greek hero and son of Zeus who was born to a mortal mother. His jealous step-mother the queen plotted in vain to get him killed. As a baby he had strangled the very two serpents that the queen had sent to kill him. He went on to become a wrestling champion of superhuman strength. Meanwhile Busiris was an Egyptian district situated in the delta region and inhabited by the warrior class known as Hermotybians. Busiris was also the name of the district capital city with temples dedicated to the worship of Isis. On the other hand, Dionysos was the Egyptian Osiris and Amun was the Egyptian name for Zeus. In the scene mentioned above, Heracles was killing the inhabitants of Busiris. It was merely the Greek equivalent of an Egyptian event in which the barbito was played to celebrate the festival of Isis. Herodotus, who visited Tyre, reported that, “I found a temple of Heracles built by the Phoenicians who settled there after they had sailed in search of Europa. Even this was five generations before Heracles the son of Amphitryon made his appearance in Greece” (Herodotus, p.147). Heracles has been known in Egypt and to the Phoenicians before appearing in ancient Greece. The importance of the event depicted in the vase painting is that it points to Egypt as the origin of the instrument.

The identification of the Phoenicians as Egyptian/Luos will be discussed further below. However, amongst the Luo of Uganda and the Acholi in particular, Heracles is a familiar character and has been popularly known under the name of ‘La-gi-tiin’ (or La-gi-teen), derived from the word ‘Latin’ which means a ‘child’. For example, Fr. Crazzolara who was an expert in the Acholi dialect, pointed out that, ‘Lateen’ (often written as Latin) is a noun for child aged 4 -6 years, or a diminutive figure (Crazzolara, 1938, p. 283). On the other hand ‘gi’ is used in compound terms to refer to ‘thing of’, for example ‘gi-tiin of gi-teen’. Meanwhile, ‘la’, is just a singular prefix meaning ‘of’, or ‘belonging to’. La-gi-tiin simply means ‘of the child-like or ‘of the diminutive entity’. In the Acholi folktales that A.M. Odonga (1999) and Margaret L. Laker (2000) wrote about, the ugly, cruel, awesome, brutal, frightening tyrannical giants or Obibi feature so prominently. So were the exploits extraordinary super human La-gi-tiin. He was known as an expert archer and marksman. Quite often he was deployed to scare off birds from destroying crops. He was the champion wrestler, so confident that he gave his opponents the opportunity to choose the venue of contests. Any challenger was quickly slayed or overpowered, then restrained and tied up. In the Acholi folktales, the dreaded ‘Obibi’ ogres suffered many indignities at the hands of the La-gi-tiin. Every time La-gi-tiin slayed an ogre he sang in exuberance, emphasizing and reminding people that he was ‘Wuod Ocieng’, the son of ‘Ocieng. Interestingly, Cieng is a common name of the sun otherwise known as Ra. In other words, La-gi-tiin considered himself the son of Ra.

As for the origin of the word ‘Barbito’ we need to look to Africa and particularly amongst the Luos of the great lakes region. In their description of the founders of the Kitara empire,  B.A. Ogot and J.A. Kieran (1968) noted, “They began a dynasty of kings (each called Mukama) that has lasted some eighteen generations, perhaps four or five centuries. This dynasty is called the Bito dynasty because the founders were of the Jo-Bito clan of the Lwoo” (Ogot, 1968, p.152).  “The Babito were one of he Lwoo royal clan groups and this is known throughout Acholi and the country of the Alur” (Dunbar, 1968, p.34). For the route they followed and how they settled, Crazzolara (1960) wrote, “We must suppose that the Ba-Bito division of the Lwo reached Pa-Jook and the territory to the South of the Agooro range, where they stayed for many years (about 50?). Their character, general qualities, principles of justice in deciding cases, etc, or their power to impress the peoples of the area and won them over completely ….” 2

The word Babito comes from the Luo word ‘Bito’ which means a bark cloth tree. Amongst the Acholi the orangeish bark cloth was a preserve of the priests and the royals. Babito were the Luo dynasts who founded the Kitara empire in the great lake region (Fr. Crazzolara, 1950; Wringley, 1958; Roscoe, 1901; Ogot, 1967 1978; Webster, 1979, 1980). Therefore, like the Kitara and the tortoise-lyra, the Babito as a musical instrument provides the physical evidence which support the contention that the Luo were the civilising influence on the Greeks. The Luo origin of the gods worshipped in Greece in whose honour the instruments were played is briefly discussed below.

4.0 The Luos and the gods worshipped in Ancient Greece

The musical instruments described above were played in honour and dedication to the service of gods. For example, Apollo was considered the Greek god of music. In a ‘libation scene’ “ …. The god Apollo, while supporting the kithara in his left arm, holds a phiale, a wide, shallow drinking dish in his right hand” (Maas and Snyder, 55). The identities of the gods in some of the ancient vase paintings were provided by Herodotus who observed, “- Horus is the Apollo, Osiris the Dionysus, of the Greeks” (Herodotus, p.187). In numerous paintings, Apollo appears in the company of gods and goddesses such as Zeus, Athena and Dionysus. Zeus was the supreme god of the Greeks in whose honour the Olympics was originally celebrated. Herodotus further noted that Ammonians were a joint colony of Egyptians and Ethiopians: “So far, as I can see, the Ammonians took their name too from this circumstance; for Amun is the Egyptian name for Zeus” (Herodotus, p.146). At Thebbes he was known as Amun-Ra or simply, Ra. Like the kithara, the Chelys-lyra was an instrument associated with the god Apollo. In one of the paintings, “The other gods (Hermes, Leto, Athena, and Dionysos) often present along with Artemis and the kithara-playing Apollo are also sometimes present when Apollo plays the Chelys-lyra” (Maas, & Snyder, p.81). Even though he was not the inventor, Apollo was popular for his playing the lyre. During the 6th and 5th centuries, Athenian vase paintings presented “the barbitos in a wide variety of scenes, nearly all of them related to the revelry of Dionysos” (Maas, & Snyder, p.113). The festival in honour of Dionysus has been described in the following terms:

“Everyone on the eve of the festival of Dionysious, sacrifices a hog before the door of his house…. In other ways the Egyptian method of celebrating the festival of Dionysious is much the same as the Greek, except that the Egyptians have no choric dance. Instead of the phallus they have puppets …. As the women carry them round the villages. Flutes lead the procession, and women as they follow sing a hymn to Dionysious” (Herodotus, p.149),

Amongst the Greeks, Dionysus was known for his light-heartness and a god who always offered his help to anyone in need. He was therefore very popular among gods and mortals and many feasts were held every year in his honour. In ancient Egypt, Osiris (Dionysuus) had introduced agriculture, the ruler of the dead and a symbol of eternity. It is obvious that the Greeks and the Egyptians worshipped the same gods. However, the gods were first known to the Egyptians as confirmed by Herodotus when he pointed out  that Melampus had acquired the art of divination from Egypt and had “…. introduced the name of Dionysus into Greece, together with the sacrifice in his honour and the phallic procession ….” (Herodotus, p.149). He added that,

“I will never admit that the similar ceremonies performed in Greece and Egypt are a result of mere coincidence – had that been so, our rites would have been more Greek in character and less recent in origin. Nor will I allow that the Egyptians took over from Greece either this custom or any other. Probably, Melampus got his knowledge of the worship of Dionysus through Cadmus of Tyre and the people who came with him from Phoenicia to the country now called Boeotia. The name of all the gods came to Greece from Egypt” (Herodotus, p.149)

According to Herodotus, the Greeks never exported the custom of worshipping to her neighbours. Instead, Egyptian gods were worshipped under Greek names. Herodotus was convinced that the Phoenicians were the source through which the worship of Dionysus was transmitted to the Greeks. Earlier, we presented an argument to show that the Luos had loaned words such as the ‘kithara’ and ‘babito’ to the Greeks. Following from that argument, we will confirm that the ‘Itiyopiani-sation’ of the Greeks was the mechanism through which Egyptian/Luo gods were worshipped under Greek names.

Baldwin (1869) had pointed out that before the Greeks knew Italy or Sicily by name, Itiyopians (Ethiopians) were celebrated in the verses of their poets. Much earlier, from his travels in Egypt Herodotus upon reaching Elephantine, had learnt that further south was, “….  a big city named Meroe, said to be the capital city of the Ethiopians. The inhabitants worship Zeus and Dionysus alone of the gods, holding them in great honour” (p.139-140). Amongst the Luos, Dionysus/Osiris was known and referred to as ‘Nyikang’. The identification of Nyikang as Osiris was recognized by Henri Frankfort (1948) when he wrote,

“Among the Shilluk of the upper Nile, who retain many traits recalling Egyptian usages and beliefs, the king becomes charged with the supernatural power of royalty by being enthroned on the sacred stool which normally supports the fetish of Nyakang, who, like Osiris, is both a god and the ancestor of the new monarch. In Egypt too, the central ceremony of the accession took place when the ruler was enthroned ans received the diadems and scepters” (H. Frankfort, 1948,p.43-44).

The Shilluk are a Nilotic group that together with the Anuak, comprise the ‘Northern Luo’. Frankfort suggested that the Shilluk retain much knowledge regarding the ancient Egyptian beliefs. The ceremony of enthronement amongst the Shilluk was similar to that in ancient Egypt. Amongst the Shilluk, an important ceremony was the ‘investiture’ of the king. The ceremony involves the introduction of the king-elect to Nyikang. The former was then obliged to present numerous gifts to Nyikang whose effigy was brought out by priests, and transported to all the districts accompanied by his army. On arrival at the headquarters, Nyikang is placed on a royal stool. After a short while, the king-elect was sat on the stool to ensure that he was infused with the spirit of Nyikang. The significance of the investiture ceremony was to show the importance of to the Shilluk kingship as noted by Evans-Pritchard:

“Nyikang is always king of the Shilluk and when a king dies his spirit is conceived of as departing in some manner from the king’s body to take up its abode in the new effigy especially made for its accommodation at the shrine ,,,, by entering anew into the body of a prince, Nyikang once again rules in his capital” (E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1948, p. 28).

The eternity of Nyikang is narrated as part of power struggle amongst princess. As a prince, Nyikang got involved in a power struggle with another contender, was killed but rose from the dead. Nyikang’s reverence was not confined to the Shilluk and Northern Luos. Amongst the Central Luos, Nyikang is fondly remembered by the Acholi of Pa-Dibe. At the time of the founding of the ‘Bito’ kingdom of ‘Kitara’, the “Pa-Nyikango entered Alurland” and like other royal settlers, “The Pa-Nyikango also claim Bito descent” (P’Bitek, 1980, pp.22-23). An account of his death disappearance was described by Rev. Fr. Crazzolara:

“one such contender went one day and threw a spear at Nyikango, hitting him in the chest. “take me into a hut” Nyikango said to his people. He was taken into a hut. Its roof opened of itself, and Nyikango went into the height -, into heaven, in the shape of a smoke, keta mal a iiro. The important chiefs were called. When they arrived and entered the hut, they did not find Nyikango, because he had ascended into the sky as smoke. The members of Nyikango’s family said to the chiefs: “What are you looking for? Is he not up there moving towards the sky?!” – Turning to the gazing people Nyikango said reprovingly: “My children, why are you looking for me?”. He then said to his children, i.e. his successors: “You shall be buried in the earth, you shall not come to heaven after me”. Then he departed from them and went mal, “in the height” (Crazzolara, p126-127).

Quite often, in the ancient world, the death of a king, triggered furious struggles among the princes as to who should succeed to the throne. In Egypt, Osiris had a wicked and jealous brother named Set. Amongst the Shilluk, Nyikang had an equally wicked and jealous brother called Duwat. Just as was the case in ancient Egypt where Set plotted and killed Osiris, the latter had a happier ending and rose from the dead. Amongst the Shilluk, Nyikang arose from the dead and was lifted into heaven. Being a symbol of eternal life, Nyikang is a national hero and revered as a semi-god amongst the Shilluk. If Christianity pre-dated Christ, the episode and adventure of Nyikang presents the clearest evidence to support that contention. Osiris was the god who taught mankind agriculture and was associated with the corn and fertility. Similarly, Westermann noted of the Shilluk that, “At the beginning of the rainy season, when they are about to plant dura, the regular chief prayers take place; on this occasion an animal is slain as a sacrifice to Nyikang. Before a transaction of any serious business the elders of the village assemble around the temple of Nyikang, to ask for his counsel” (D. Westermann, 1970, p. XL11). Nyikang was thus the god of crops, prosperity and goodwill. It is reasonable to conclude that Nyikang was the Osiris who was worshipped as Dionysus by the Greeks.

Earlier, we saw that the kithara instrument was played mainly during state religious activities and was identified with the god Apollo, which was the Greek equivalent of the Egyptian Heru (Horus). Amongst the Greeks, Apollo was known as the son of Zeus and of a mortal mother Leto. Interestingly, the Greek god ‘Apollo’ bears a Luo name. Specifically, it derives from the Luo word ‘Pollo’ or ‘Poollo’. In his ‘The Acholi Language’, Crazzolara (1938) wrote, “poolo, n. sky, heaven(s); pool tyee I te poolo, ci poolo cool; clouds are in the sky and the sky is, therefore, dark” (Crazzolara, 1938, p.370-371). In the Luo language, ‘pollo’ has four meanings; ‘lightening’, the ‘sky’, ‘outer space’ and ‘heaven’. The prefix ‘A’ simply means ‘of’. Thus ‘Apollo’ means of the sky, of the heavens, of the outer space or of lightening. In Payira, the largest pre-colonial Acholi state ‘Apollo’ is worshipped and fondly referred to as ‘Ka-lawinya’, of ‘outer space’, of the ‘heights’.

Meanwhile, ‘Horu’ was the Egyptian equivalent of the Greek ‘Apollo’ and was one of the earliest royal gods. In ancient Egypt though, Horu was known as the son of Osiris and Isis and together were considered the great trinity. However, as part of the solar trinity that comprised Ra and Osiris, Horu, was the god that overcame the power of darkness and had the sun and moon as its eyes. He was considered the sky-god and ruler of the day. Coincidentally, like Apollo, ‘Horu’ is also another Luo word. Interestingly, both ‘Horu’ (misspelled as ‘Oru’) and ‘Apollo’ are Luo words. The former, derives from ‘ruu’, meaning daybreak.  Again Crazzolara’s work is useful: “ruu. vn. to break, dawn; piiny oruu it dawns; ruu-piiny, n. daybreak; tiin pee piiny ruune to-day will not dawn for him (he will die before that); naka-piny-ruu  naka-pinyruu, also ki ruu-piiny  ki ruu piiny, adv. day by day, day by day, every day” (Crazzolara, 1938, p.382-383). It was for this reason that R. Boccassino (1938) suggested that the concept ‘ruu-piiny’ was used in reference to a divinity. Suffice to mention that Horu was an aspect of the sun as it dawns.

Apollo, mentioned above was the son of Zeus who was the supreme god and the Greek god of mercy. Amun- Ra or simply Ra was the Egyptian equivalent of Zeus. Like the Egyptian ‘Ra’, Zeus had a bird as a messenger:

“ …. In the suppliant, (line 212) Danaos invokes ‘the bird of Zeus’ and the chorus responds by invoking ‘the saving beams of the sun’. Commentators have been obliged to see the striking parallel with the solar hawk of Zeus’ Egyptian equivalent Amon-Ra, but they try to diminish its significance by calling it ‘Egyptianizing’, which gives it the flavor of being somehow late and superficial”. (Bernal, 1987, p.91).

The grounds for challenging the striking similarities and calling it ‘Egyptianizing’ seem to be weak, considering that both Apollo and Dionysus had their origins in Itiyopian ruled Luo region. Though there are references to the Greeks worshipping Egyptian gods under Greek names, we shall here focus on the Luo origin of the god ‘Ra’. Amongst the Acholi there was a strong recognition of the god ‘Ra’ the Egyptian sun god. A state was even named after ‘Ra’. Fr. Crazzolara noted, “Paari mythology tends to indicate that he was killed by some evil Jwook (spirit); that is why they call this people Parajook (para jwook, they dreaded this spirit or disease) …. (Crazzolara, 1950, p.174). As a matter of fact, the name of an Acholi state in the Sudan is known as the Parajok. Once deconstructed, the true meaning of the state comes out as ‘Pa-Ra-Jok’ (‘Pa’ is a possessive preposition ofRa is the Sun god and Jok is spirit). Thus, Parajok means ‘Of the spirit Ra’, and a dedication to the Sun god, which completed the creation of the universe.

‘Ra’s or Zeus’ messenger, the solar hawk, ‘Ko-ga’ or ‘Agoga’ is known to the Acholi. For example, Fr. Crazzolara writes that koga is a ‘ large bird (body dark, beak, feet, and hind parts red)” (Crazzolara, 1938, p.258). Similarly, Fr. C.A.A. Odongo (1996) described it as “A much bigger bird than an eagle and preys on young animals, has dark beak with hind parts red” (Odongo, 1996, p.80). It has been a mystery that attracted curiosity. A. A. Banya (1994) suggested that “The reason why the bird called ‘koga’, large and black has a red hind is because one day it disclosed a secret ….” (A.A. Banya, 1994, p.156). It has been the most dreaded bird in Acholi as a character in P’Bitek’s (1984) poem lamented: “My husband despises me because I fear the kite with the flame in its anus”. (P’Bitek, 1984, p.92). This is because it is believed the bird conveys sad messages to the kings from the god who has great influence over them. Whenever the bird hovers onlookers are resigned to the fact that some unfortunate monarch has perished or is in deep trouble. From our investigation of the gods worshipped in ancient Greece, we have shown that they were Egyptian equivalents but ultimately derived from the Luo. It would appear reasonable to accept that the Luos had exerted a considerable influence on the ancient Greeks. During his tour of duty as a British colonial administrator in Acholiland, Captain E.N.T Grove suggested that, “The Acholi has a strong idea, like that of the Greeks, that if you are too prosperous the envy of the gods will fall on you” (Captain Grove, 1919, p.179). Captain Groove’s assertion cannot be taken seriously as the Acholi yearn for wealth and prosperity in a materialist and spiritualist world. Therefore, it is appropriate at this juncture to discuss the Luo origin of the enterprising Phoenicians.

5.0 The Phoenicians as Egyptian/Luos

The Biblical country of ‘Canaan’ was known to the ancient Greeks as ‘Phoenicia’ and the people were the Phoenicians. The influence of the Phoenicians on the Greeks is found in monuments, archaeology and art and has generated an intense debate. In the ancient model, it was widely accepted that the Phoenicians had exerted a considerable influence on the Greeks. To Herodotus, the most important accomplishment of the Phoenicians who had settled in Greece, was the introduction of the alphabet. He specifically pointed out that the Phoenicians had, “ …. Introduced into Greece, after their settlement in the country, a number of accomplishments, of which the most important was writing, an art till then, I think unknown to the Greeks” 3 . In a further confirmation John C Trever (1971) who examined the source of Greek alphabets noted;

“There is an interesting relation between the early Greek and Hebrew writing in the fact that the early Canaanite alphabet, as developed by the Phoenicians ca.10th – 9th cents. B.C., was adopted and improved by the Greeks for their writing – most notably by the adaption of some of the characters to represent vowels. This Greek- improved Canaanite alphabet became the basis of all the scripts of Western civilization.” (John C.Trever, 1971, p.1205).

There was clearly a relationship between the Hebrew, Canaanites and the Phoenicians. From C. Trever’s account the Phoenicians influence started around 900 BC – 800 BC. Greek alphabets were derived from those of the Phoenicians which later became the basis of modern scripts.

The contributions of the Phoenicians to Greek civilisation as noted by Herodotus and Trever were gradually and systematically rejected by some western scholars at the height of western imperialism. Marsh (1885) suggested that, “The Phoenician, so far as we know, did not bring a single fructifying idea into the world … Their arts … hardly deserves to be called arts; they were for most part only traders. Their architecture, sculpture, paintings were of the most unimaginative sort. Their religion, so far as we know it, was entirely an appeal to the senses” 4. Even after the Phoenicians introduced divinities and the art of writing to the Greeks, the Greek writers tried as much as possible to avoid giving credit to the Phoenicians. After more evidence was produced to support Phoenician settlement in Greece, German historian Holm (1886) wrote,  “….why should there be a reluctance to admit the existence of mere settlement of Phoenicians in Greece, when supported by historical criteria which are considered valid in other cases? Phoenician were once there, but their influence was inconsiderable” 5. As the scholars downplayed or rejected the Phoenician influence on the Greeks, the development of the Aryan Model which stipulates that the Greeks were civilized by Indo-Europeans was gathering pace. An examination of how the Phoenicians became Europeanized, de-Europeanized, Orientalised and even villified is a subject of future discussion. Of interest to us is the identification of the Phoenicians with the Luo, an exercise so far ignored ever since Diop’s call for Africans to reclaim their ancient history. On the origin of Phoenicians, (Diop, 1974) had this to say,

“….Phoenician history is therefore incomprehensible only if we ignore the         Bible data according to which the Phoenicians, in other words, the Canaanites were originally Negroes, already civilized, with whom nomadic, uncivilized white tribes later mixed …. One can also understand that Phoenician religion and beliefs are to some extent replicas of Egypt’s. …. Phoenician cosmogony reveals once again the kinship of Egyptians and Phoenicians, both of Kushite (Negro) origin. This kinship is confirmed by the revelations of the Ras Sharma (ancient Ugarit, on the Syrian coast) texts, which place the original habitat of Phoenicia’s national heroes in the south, on Egypt’s frontier” (Diop, 1974, p. 107 – 109)

Diop pointed out that the Phoenicians were actually the Cananites and Africans. According to the Bible, Canaan was the fourth son Ham and who was the son of Noah.  The followers of Canaan or Canaanites had inhabited land, west of the Dead Sea. In addition, they had conquered the area east of Jordan River and indeed all the land that was to become Palestine. In a further clarification of their identity, D.D. Houston wrote, “The Phoenicians in the days of Christ called themselves Ethiopians” (D.D. Houston, 1985,p.22). Elsewhere, we noted that ‘Ethiopian’ was a corruption of the word Itiyopian, which in the Luo Nilotic parlance meant a people who had pledged collective loyalty to the god ‘Anu’. The racial affinity of the Phoenicians as Luos becomes apparent when the etymology of the word ‘Phoenicia’ and story of the colonization of Greece by the Phoenicians is examined. Herbert G. May, a biblical scholar has provided some valuable clues as to the meaning of the word when he wrote,

“Phoenicia’ has been taken as a Greek rendering of the meaning of ‘Canaan’, formed by an assimilation of the Greek ‘phoinix’, meaning ‘red purple’ with a similar Egyptian word meaning ‘wood worker’. It was thus have reference to common products of the country used in international trade, the purple- red dye and cloth and wood from the famed cedars of Lebanon” ( Herbert G. May, 1971, p.1015).

Thus the word Phoenician was used to describe the people who dealt in the ‘phoinix’ which meant a red purple stuff, mainly wood, products (sometimes red purple clothes) that the Canaanites brought to exchange with items of the Greeks. Coincidentally, the etymology of the word is Nilotic. For example, in the Luo dialect of the Acholi, ‘Phoi’ or ‘Poi’ are the same words that refer to a type of wood with remarkable strength and durability used in making curvings, walking staffs. In his use of the word, Okot P’Bitek for example wrote, “ ‘Poi’is no use for firewood, it is rock; it is useful only as a walking stuff for the aged” (P’Bitek, 1984, p.60). As suggested by May, the Canaan merchants traded in wood ‘Phoi’ to which the merchants were then named. The racial affinity between the Luo and Phoenicians is supported by the story of colonization of Greece by the Phoenicians. In the story it is mentioned names that can be traced to the early development of the theocratic State of Egypt. Before examining the story of colonization, it is important to bring out the background of some of the people mentioned in the Suppliants, a play about Egyptian and Phoenician settlement on Greek mainland.

For Bernal (1987) most of the names mentioned in the Suppliants have strong Egyptian connotations and wrote,

“The Nile was renowned for its fertility and life giving powers. Furthermore, according to mythographer Apollodorus, who probably lived in the 1st Century AD, the mother of Aigyptos and Danaos, who was the daughter of the Nile, was called Anchinoe. The possibility that this derives from an Egyptian form nh  nwy (living waters or life of water) is increased by the variants of her name as Anchirrhoe or Anchirhoe: rhoe means ‘stream or flow’ in Greek” ( Bernal, 1987, p.94).

The most striking name mentioned above was that of Aigyptos, otherwise known as Agyptah, the first Egyptian king after whom the country was named and who was also called ‘Menya’. As pointed out elsewhere, the name ‘Agyptah’, is Luo and means the ‘illuminary’, or ‘of the light’. On the other hand, ‘Menya’ means ‘shines on me’. Meanwhile, the etymology of the words ‘Danaos’, ‘Danaus’, ‘Danu’, or ‘Dano is also Luo and means mortals as opposed to the spirit. Thus, of the two brothers Aigyptos and Danaos, if the former was a spirit, the latter was a mortal who later established himself in Greece. While the former was to give the affairs of god more weight, the latter wanted the affairs of men to be given more consideration. The names of other pioneer settlers mentioned in the ‘Suppliants’, were provided by Herodotus who wrote,

“The temple of Athena there [Lindos in Rhodes] was founded by the daughters of Danaos, who touched at the island during their flight from the sons of Aigyptos. Kadmos, the son of Agenor, touched at it [Thera] during his search for Europa and ….left there a number of Phoenicians” (Bernal, 1987:98).(Herodotus, p.201, 319).

Upon settling, the daughters of Danos had built a temple at Lindos. Their flight from the sons of Aigyptos indicated that the settlers were groups of Egyptian exiles who had left their homeland due to dynastic instability and rivalry between ‘Agyptah’ and ‘Danaus’. The colonists must have arrived in waves. Meanwhile, Kadmos had also led another group of Phoenician settlers. Whilst looking for Europa he landed at Thera where he had left a number of followers. Coincidentally, even the new settlers had Luo names. Kadmos the son of Ageno had a Luo name too. It means ‘filter or pass through with care!’. For example the name Agenor comes from a Luo word ‘Gen’ meaning ‘trust’. On the other hand, ‘Geno’ in Luo means ‘to trust’ and ‘Gene’ is ‘trustworthy’. ‘Ageno’ means ‘the one I had in trust’.

Henry Morgan (1877) the American anthropologist claimed that in the Iroquois society, he had found the origins of the Greek ‘Genos’ and the Roman ‘Gen’ social organisation. Could the Greco-Latin concepts ‘Geno’ and ‘Gens’ have come from the Luo word ‘Gen’? A monarch with a similar name, ‘Agen’ was the successor to ‘Kiti Moro’ in the Koch (Kush) line of rulers amongst the Acholi of Uganda (Girling, 1960:222). Other Luo names associated with the arrival of the colonists is ‘Thera’ or ‘Tera’. Again this is a common name amongst the Acholi. It means ‘An elevated, raised country (as opposed to the lower part of a river)’ (Crazzolara, 1938, p.394). Stories that are associated with Thera volcano is still retold in Acholi today. For example, the volcanic destruction of Thera in 1626 B. C. otherwise known as the lost civilisation of Atlantis is still well remembered, and it is referred to as the ‘Got Abayo’ (Mt. Abayo) 6. Amongst those who perished during the volcanic eruption were spectators and performers who had gathered for a big musical festival. According to the Acholi version that eruption was actually, a retribution exacted by a spirit who, on appearing as a leper, had been insulted by disrespectful girls who denied the leper a calabash to drink water from. The only survivors were those who had played no part in insulting the leper. Therefore, if the landing of the daughters of Danaos took place around 1720 B. C. as suggested by Bernal, then the Luos had lived there to retell the story. Thus, an important observation to be made is that contrary to the assertion of Bernal and other writers, the Phoenicians were not Semitic, but Nilotic Africans, Egyptians and Luo.

6.0 Conclusion

The identification of the people who exerted a tremendous influence on Greek civilization has generated an intense debate which has remained in abeyance. In the debate, the Aryan model maintained that Greek civilization resulted from the conquest of Indo-European speakers. The alternative ancient model suggested the foundation of Greek civilization was laid by Egyptians and Phoenicians. This paper is an intervention into the historical debate. The basis of the intervention was the consideration that the colonizers left behind in Greece instruments of labour, loaned words and the names of their gods.

Using linguistic analysis and arrays of archaeological and documentary sources, we have traced the etymology of the words the colonizers loaned to the Greeks. From the etymology of the words, we have presented an argument to support the contention that the Nilotic African people known as the Luos were the people who contributed significantly towards the development of Greek civilization. The Luos introduced a variety of musical instruments which bore Luo words such as Kitara, the Lyre (tortoise) and the Babito. They introduced and exposed the Greek to a holistic world view (materialist and spiritualist) and loaned to them words such as ‘Apollo’ to the Greeks. Moreover, we have also argued that the Phoenicians who introduced writing in Greece and expanded commerce and industry in the Aegean region and into Europe, were not Semitic as the Orientalist scholars wanted us to believe. Interestingly, the Phoenician described themselves as Itiyopians.

It is argued that, the suppression and denial of Luo origin of Egyptian civilization had foremost, impeded our understandings of the origin and the people who influenced Greek civilization. Both Iliad and Odyssey must be seen as presenting the romantic and tragic view of life to the Nilotic colonizers. How the Phoenicians have been identified with ‘Semites’, ‘Jews’ and as ‘Asiatic’ is a subject of future investigation.

Dr. Terence Okello Paito


  1. See Herodotus, p.149
  2. Crazzolara J.P (1960), ‘Notes on the Lango –Omiru and on the Labwor and Nyikwai’,Anthropos, Vol 55, 1960 p.193.
  3. See Herodotus, p.361.
  4. See Marsh,American Journal of Archaeology, 1885, p.191
  5. Holm A (1894), History of Greece, London, Macmillan, pp. 47, 101-102
  6. The Story of Thera or Tera is contained in the text‘Acholi Macon‘ or
    ‘Acholi Ancient history‘ that was put together by Fr. Pellegrini (1955). It
    remains a reading primary school text in Acholi.


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