Africa’s name, knowledge and dynamics


Motsoko Pheko

It is wrong history to teach that Africa was named by Greeks or Romans when these colonialists illegally occupied this unique continent through aggression and invasion. This was in 332 BC until the Roman invasion in 30 BC Africa got its name from Africans.

It is estimated that there are six thousand languages in the world. Half of them are in Africa. If languages that have faded away are counted Africa had more than the present number.
One of the oldest names of Africa is Alkebu-Lan. This name has been interpreted as meaning “Mother of Nations” or “Mother of Mankind.” Africa is also one of the oldest names of this continent. Many theories about who named Africa have been thrown about:
That the name came from a Roman soldier called Skippio Africanus.
That the name is from Arabic Afriqiyah.


That the name for Africa came from Leo Africanus. (1495-1554 AD). This date is too late for him. The Romans and the Greeks were long gone. This African scholar was a youth who was taken to slavery and later made a gift to Pope Leo X. This Pope realising this young man’s brilliant mind released him from slavery.
During his life Leo Africanus is said to have travelled in Timbuktu in Mali and Songhai in present Nigeria. He patriotically associated his name with the great continent of his ancestors – Afrika. The forces of European imperialism had begun to inflict the continent through the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade.

It does not make sense to attribute the naming of Africa to Leo Africanus. The Greeks occupied Africa in 332 BC. They were followed by the Romans in 30 BC. These imperialists had long left when this brilliant scholar was born. Mizraim/Kemet (ancient Egypt) became occupied by Arabs only in 461 AD. The people of Kemet/Kmt/Chemi/Khemi called themselves Kemmiu. This means Black people.
Greeks had earlier called Africa Aphrike as they could not pronounce the existing name Af-Rui-Ka. The Greeks had already failed to call Mizraim/Kemet by one of its names Hu- Ka-Ptah. They corrupted this name into Aigyptos, while the Romans followed with their Aegyptus in their Latin language.

The Greek and Roman name for Mizraim/Kemet/Hu-Ka-Ptah translates into Egypt in English. The indigenous African name, Hu-Ka-Ptah, broke the jaws of the Greeks and the Romans. They could not pronounce this Mizraim/Kemet name; hence the name Egypt today. In fact, Egyptology and Egyptologist should be called Kemetology and Kemetologist respectively. Kemet/kmt was one of the correct names for “Hu-Ka-Ptah.”
Anyway let us go back to Africa’s name again. The Romans merely described Africa as “land of Afri” or “Afer terra” which meant “land of Afri” (black people). The names Afer and Afar are Phoencian. Phoenicians were descendants of Canaan son of Ham. They also spoke of “Afri tribes.” This was long way back in the BC period when Africa was far advanced than Europe.

The Bible refers to Africa and its ancient extension in the Near East as the Land Of Ham, many times (Genesis 9:1; 10:6:20; Psalm 78:51; 105:23; 105:27; 10:6-22; 1 Chronicles 1:8) This includes Ham and his descendants.
These Phoenician names also mean “land of dust.” It is not clear whether they meant ordinary dust or the dust from which God created humanity according to many religions. Anyway, Phoenicians called themselves Kena’ anu or Kena’ ani, a Canaanite language. They called a book Byblos.

This section of Black people/ ancient Africans traded in paper which was called Papyrus, from which books were made. Papyrus was grown in Kemet/Kmt. Byblos (Biblyus) is the Canaanite/Phoenician word from which the name of the Bible is derived. Other words so derived are bibliography, bibliotheque, biblioteca and bibliotheke.
Concerning this originally Canaanite word, Byblos, a historian has commented: “This is highly ironic considering the very negative treatment that Canaanites receive in the [Eurocentric misinterpreted] Old Testament [about ‘The Curse of Ham.’”]

Other indigenous people of Africa used the name “Afri” or “Ifran.” The ancient language of Mizraim/Kemet (ancient Egypt): Kemetic called Africa, Af-Rui- Ka. It means the opening of Ka. Ka means soul or spirit. It also means the “place of birth.” Most African languages seem to have all agreed on the “root” “af,” “ifran,” “Afer,” “afar.” etc.

In Azania (South Africa) there is a common root “ntu”/ “tho” for African languages demonstrating that they come from a common stock. Here is an example. Ancient Africans called their countries after their skin colour or language collectively. Kush, Mizraim/Kemet, Nubia, Numidia, Khart-Haddas, Azania meant black man’s country.
In Africa, especially in Southern-Central Eastern Africa any human being was umntu, motho, muntu. This is in Xhosa, Sesotho and Zulu languages. Their common philosophy is Ubuntu/ Botho. When it came to land it could be according to the language of the people e.g. Venda, Swazi, Sesotho, Sepedi, Setswana, Shona, Sindebele etc.

But when it came to the whole country, it was described as “Land of Black People” or “Blackman’s Country”- Izwe labantu abantsundu or abamnyama, Naha ya batho ba batsho, Shango la vhathu va tswu, Tiko ra vanhu va mtima, Vana vevhu! This is collectively in Sesotho, Nguni, Venda, Tsonga and Shona respectively. In Sesotho all Africans are called Bana ba thari e ntsho (children of the black mother).
There seems to have been this commonality when the ancestors of Africans named Africa. This was long before the Greeks and Romans knew anything about this unique continent whose people have never coveted the land and riches of other people and stolen them at gunpoint.

The name Africa is consistent with the other oldest name of the continent – Alkebu-Lan -“Mother of Nations.”
Kemetologist/Egyptologist Gerald Massey was a very learned English man about Africa. He has endorsed the etymology of the word African as meaning origin. He has pointed out that “Africa was the prime source of the world’s people, language, myths, symbols and religions.”

The name Africa has indeed come from the heart of Africans with their then over 3000 languages. Africa became known to Europe through the Greeks and the Romans, but these Europeans had heard this name from Africans.
Greeks and Romans were drawn to the glory and riches of pre-slavery and pre-colonial Africa. Those were days when Julius Caesar, in adoration and admiration of the “Mother of Nations” – Alkebu-Lan – Afrika; could without fear of contradicting himself, say: “Ex Africa semper aliquid novi!”- “Out of Africa always comes something new.”
The distinguished Roman scholar Pliny the Elder had already proclaimed, “Semper aliquid novi Africam ad ferre.” “There is always something new coming out of Africa.”

The view that the name Africa came from Africans and not from Greeks and Romans or Arabs has been endorsed by well informed researchers and writers. Some of them are Professor Ivan Van Sertima, author of Blacks In Science.
Gerald Massey, an accomplished English Egyptologist, went to the extent of saying that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was incomplete without spiritualism from Africa.

Dr Yosef A ben-Jochannan simply titled his book, Africa: Mother Of Western Civilisation. The celebrated African Kemetologist/Egyptologist, Dr Cheikh Anta Diop, has pointed out that “During antiquity, scholars considered Ethiopians, Egyptians and Colchians as Black people. Nobody can cite a denial of this fact in the ancient text.” Indeed, “the father of European history,” Herodotus wrote about this way back in the BC era.
What the ancients said about Africa
Before Africa and her people suffered the holocaust of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, colonial stealing of their countries and riches by Western Europe that dehumanised Africa’s people through racism, this is what the ancients said about Africa and Africans:

1. Ibn Hisham, the biographer or editor of Prophet Mohammed, has recorded that this Prophet of Islam so trusted the people of Africa that he instructed those who were persecuted in Mecca for their religion to go to Kush/ Ethiopia [Africa]. “You will find a king under whom none are persecuted. It is a land of righteousness where God will give you relief from what you are suffering.”

2. Lucian was a Greek satirist (a “free thinker”) of the olden days. He is recorded as saying, “The [Greek] gods on certain occasions do not hear the prayers of the mortals [in Europe] because they are away across the oceans among the Ethiopians [Africans] with whom they dine frequently on their invitation.”

3. Diodurus Siculus was a veteran ancient Greek historian. What did he write about the pre-slave and pre-colonial Africa? “The Ethiopians [Africans] were the first to honour the gods and hold sacrifices and festivals and processions and the rites by which men honour the deity and that in consequence their piety has been published abroad among all men…the sacrifices practised among the Ethiopians are those that are the most pleasing to heaven.”

4. In his lengthy two-volume treaties, Ancalypsis, pages 137-138, Sir Godfrey Higgins has written, “The Infant in the arms of his mother, his eyes and drapery white, is himself perfectly black.
If any reader doubts my word, he must go to the cathedral at Moulins – to the famous chapel of the virgin at Loretto – to the church of Saint Lazaro, or the church of Stephen at Genoa…to the cathedral at Augsburg, where are a black virgin and child as large as life…to Panthem – a small chapel of Saint Peter on the right hand side….”
Sir Higgins adds, “There is scarcely an old church in Italy where some remains of the worship of Black Virgin and Black Child are not to be met with.”

He, however, observed that lately, “Very often the black figures have given way to white ones and instead of the black ones as being held sacred, they were put into retired places of the churches, but were not destroyed.”
This is how racism has been used against Africa and her people by the architects of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and colonialism for which there has been no reparation or and meaningful apology. History must be written as it happened. A mutilated and manipulated history is a perfidious lie that must be destroyed.
What the Bible says about Africans
What does the Bible say about Africans whom it calls Kushites, Ethiopians, Egyptians, Nubians and by many other names? Through his Prophet Amos in chapter 9:7 God asked this question:

“Are not you Israelites the same as the Kushites? Declare the Lord. “Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt?” (New International Version of the Bible)
“Are you not as children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel? saith, the Lord .Have I not brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt?” (King James Version of the Bible)
Also through the Bible in Psalm 68:31, God shows great interest in Africans: “Princes shall come out of Egypt; and Ethiopia [Africa] shall soon stretch out her hands to God.”
The New International Version of the Bible reads: “Envoys will come from Egypt; Kush will submit herself to God. Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth. Sing to the Lord, to him who rides the ancient skies above, who thunders with might.”

“Princes shall come out of Egypt [Africa]; Ethiopia [Africa] shall hasten to stretch out her hands to God.” (The Amplified Version of the Bible).
See what happened about 74 AD in Acts 8:26-40. Consider also the fact that the earliest martyrs of the Christian faith were Africans.
In Deuteronomy 23:7-8 God had a command for ancient Jews who had been preserved in Africa.“…Do not abhor an Egyptian (African), because you lived as an alien in his country. The third generation of children born to them may enter the assembly of the Lord.”

The Amplified Bible reads,“ …You shall not abhor an Egyptian [African] because you were a stranger and temporary resident in his land. Their children may enter into the congregation of the Lord in their third generation.”
Back to Africa
Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme, that great pan-Africanist scholar and visionary, was right when on April 1906 told American students at Columbia University:
“Africa in her ruins is like a golden sun, that having set beneath the western horizon still speaks to the world she sustained and enlightened. Africa is truly the history of a people whose inward tide has often been full of tears. But her bondage shall never quench the fire of former years until her destroyed glory returns.”


Dr Motsoko Pheko is author of several books on history, political science, theology and law. His latest books are: African Inventors and Their Inventions and Africans in the Bible and World History. He is a former Member of the South African Parliament. During the liberation struggle in Africa, he was a representative of the victims of apartheid and colonialism at the United Nations in New York as well as at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.