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Maat, Imhotep & Rituals of Peace: Authentic Models Of Conflict Resolution In African Culture

Peace is central to the constitution of the individual African person as well as to the foundation of the overall society. In African society, peace for the individual and the general community were pursued simultaneously, with each effort complementing one another. The relationship between the individual and the community in African thought are inextricably intertwined and is best expressed by the dictum given to us by John Mbiti, “I am because we are.  We are therefore I am”.

Before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other personalities within the Christian or Western-Asian religious traditions, we observe within traditional Africa the existence of societies where the concept of peace was fundamental to their existence.

The African understanding of peace can be identified with the Ancient Kemetic civilization as a whole, with Imhotep in particular , with the names of several African countries, the concept of ubuntu and rituals for conflict resolution.

Ancient Kemet was an ancient civilization of eastern North Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. It was part of a larger complex of civilizations, referred to as the Nile Valley Civilizations, of which regions south of Egypt in today’s Sudan, Eritrea, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia.

The Ancient Kemetic society lasted for over 5,000 thousand years without foreign invasions. There were natural barriers that the Nile and the desert provided, protecting Egypt from invasion.

“By and large, ancient Egypt is considered to be one of the most peaceful of ancient civilizations — so peaceful, in fact, that they did not have a proper army until the invasion of the Hyksos during their 15th Dynasty!”

This extensive period of freedom from external threats enabled the Kemetic civilization to develop higher level arts and sciences, which also enabled them to live in harmony with their environment as well as with each other. George G.M. James in his masterpiece groundbreaking work “Stolen Legacy” in chapter II, points out that the Greeks, who have erroneously been credited with being the original authors of philosophy could not have developed any aspects of that discipline due to:

  1. Their living in constant fear due to Persian domination.
  2. Greeks were preoccupied with organizing “Leagues” to protect themselves against Persian aggression.
  3. In addition to the Persians the Greeks were in “constant warfare with each other.”

James’ observation is key, for he identifies peace as the prerequisite for the creation for the higher level arts and sciences. Implicit in James’ analysis is that Ancient Kmt was a peaceful society and the absence of external turmoil empowered them to pursue peace in all its forms.

Ra Un Nefer Amen in his various works also identifies peace as fundamental to the constructive development of the spirit.

Amen observes that studies show that high levels of emotions-whether good or bad- leads to lower IQ. As George James asserts, Greeks could not have developed the discipline of philosophy due to their intense environment of fear, which is an inhibitor to higher order thinking. Ra Un Nefer Amen in discussing the relationship between lower IQ levels and stress, identifies the relationship between the chemical cortisol and “the shutting down” of the ability to perform higher functioning activities. Furthermore, when engaged in highly stressful environments and experiences for a prolonged period of time, individuals may experience an addiction to the chemical rush effect produced by the infusion of cortisol into their system. Thus further decreasing their ability to process information and reason.  In Nature Neuroscience, Vol. 1, No. 1. (01 May 1998), on  pp. 69-73, cortisol addiction is identified as being detrimental to learning and memory:

“Previously we related persistent cortisol increases to memory impairments in elderly humans studied over five years. Here we demonstrate that aged humans with significant prolonged cortisol elevations showed reduced hippocampal volume and deficits in hippocampus-dependent memory tasks compared to normal-cortisol controls. Moreover, the degree of hippocampal atrophy correlated strongly with both the degree of cortisol elevation over time and current basal cortisol levels. Therefore, basal cortisol elevation may cause hippocampal damage and impair hippocampus-dependent learning and memory in humans.”

The pursuit and maintenance of peace was the objective of the people of Kmt during their life on earth and during their transition to the realm of the ancestors. Through the use of  a rigorous initiation system traditional African society ensured that all members of their society understood the basic fundamentals of living in peace and it was the sine qua non achievement for all segments of society especially the leadership.

In Stolen Legacy, James outlines the required training for those entering the Kemetic priesthood. According to James:

“The ancient Egyptians had developed a very complex religious system, called the Mysteries, which was also the first system of salvation.

As such, it regarded the human body as a prison-house of the soul, which could be liberated from
its bodily impediments, through the disciplines of the Arts and Sciences, and advanced from the
level of a mortal to that of a God.

This was the notion of the summum bonum or greatest good, to which all men must aspire, and it also became the basis of all ethical concepts.

The Egyptian Mystery System was also a Secret Order, and membership was gained by initiation and a pledge
to secrecy. The teaching was graded and delivered orally to the Neophyte; and under these
circumstances of secrecy, the Egyptians developed secret systems of writing and teaching, and
forbade their Initiates from writing what they had learnt.” (Page 1  )

James goes on to add:

“For years they underwent disciplinary intellectual exercises, and bodily asceticism with intervals of tests and ordeals to determine their fitness to proceed to the more serious, solemn and awful process of actual Initiation.

Their education consisted not only in the cultivation of the ten virtues, which were made a
condition to eternal happiness, but also of the seven Liberal Arts which were intended to liberate
the soul. There was also admission to the Greater Mysteries, where an esoteric philosophy was
taught to those who had demonstrated their proficiency.” (Page 28)

The 7 liberal arts consisted of : 

A.) Grammar, Rhetoric and Logic, which “were disciplines of moral nature by means of which the irrational tendencies of a human being were purged away, and he was trained to become a living witness of the Divine Logos.

B.) Geometry and Arithmetic “were sciences of transcendental space and numeration, the comprehension of which provided the key not only to the problems of one’s being; but also to those physical ones, which are so baffling today, owing to our use of the inductive methods.”

C.) “Astronomy dealt with the knowledge and distribution of latent forces in man and the destiny of individuals, races and nations.”

D.)”Music (or Harmony) meant the living practice of philosophy i.e., the adjustment of human life into harmony with God, until the personal soul became identified with God, when it would hear and participate in the music of the spheres. It was therapeutic, and was used by the Egyptian Priests in the cure of diseases.

The ten virtues complemented this rigorous curriculum and prevented the acquisition of knowledge without having a solid moral foundation:

“In the Egyptian Mysteries the Neophyte was required to manifest the following soul attributes:

(1) Control of thought

(2) Control of action, the combination of which, Plato called Justice (i.e., the unswerving righteousness of thought and action).

 (3) Steadfastness of purpose, which was equivalent to Fortitude.

 (4) Identity with spiritual life or the higher ideals, which was equivalent to Temperance an attribute attained when the individual had gained conquest over the passional nature.

 (5) Evidence of having a mission in life and

(6) Evidence of a call to spiritual Orders or the Priesthood in the Mysteries: the combination of which was equivalent to Prudence or a deep insight and graveness that befitted the faculty of Seership.

Other requirements in the ethical system of the Egyptian Mysteries were:

(7) Freedom from resentment, when under the experience of persecution and wrong. This was
known as courage.

(8) Confidence in the power of the master (as Teacher), and

(9) Confidence in one’s own ability to learn; both attributes being known as Fidelity.

 (10) Readiness or preparedness for initiation.” (Page 31)

The entire society of Kemet took part in the initiation process. Each individual aspired to be “Ausar” by living a life free of internal and external contradictions. The Ausar Auset society, founded by Ra Un Nefer Amen states:

“The most important accomplishment in your life, which you must pursue with the utmost urgency, is the experiencing of that part of your being that directs and coordinates the activities of the billions of cells that make up your physical body, and directs the activities of your spirit and subconscious.

This indwelling intelligence that is obviously in possession of the knowledge of the workings of the universe, is God’s consciousness itself. This is Ausar, your true Self. Your true, entire, only, and ultimate purpose for being on earth is the resurrection of this indwelling intelligence, that it may guide your endeavors in life with the same omniscience that it uses to guide your physiological and subconscious mental activities. Identification with, and living by the guidance of this indwelling intelligence is the true worship of God. It is the true process of religion.”

Another expression on the importance of peace to the people of Kmt is found in their language of Mdw Ntr, where the word for peace “Hotep” was expressed by itself as well as the suffix ending of an individual’s name. The word for peace in Mdw Ntr is “Hotep”.  Hotep did not stand alone as word exchanged between two or more parties as with the Jewish and Muslim communities with “Shalom” or “As-Salāmu `Alaykum“.

We observe the word “Hotep” as a part of names of people in Kemet. “The Kemetic word Hotep (ḥtp) translates to roughly “to be satisfied, at peace”. It is regularly found in the names of ancient Egyptian figures such as Hotepsekhemwy (ḥr ḥtp-sḫm.wj “the two powers are at peace”), the first ruler of Egypt’s Second Dynasty.”

Thus we have “Amenhotep” which means “Amen is at peace” or “Amen is satisfied”. Other names include Mentuhotep which means “The God Montu is Content”.  To be “content” is to be “at peace”.

We see the “Hotep” suffix word element with one of the most important and famous personages of ancient history, Imhotep.

Imhotep is the world’s first recognized multi-genius, recognized  as such for his body of work which includes being an advisor to Pharoah Djoser, the architect who designed the Pyramid of Djoser, high priest to Ra at Heliopolis, inventor or innovator of the papyrus, founder of medicine, philosopher and poet. The current Western medical establishment pays homage to Imhotep, for his name appears in Greek form as Asclepius in the Hippocratic oath.

The name “Imhotep”, ii-m-ḥtp *jā-im-ḥatāp”, means “He who comes in peace”, or the “One who comes in peace”. The source of the achievements Imhotep is credited with is found in his name. Imhotep was able to accomplish all that he did for he was “at peace”. This properly understood indicates that Imhotep was in an environment that nurtured him and empowered him to realize his full potential. Imhotep as evidenced by his many contributions  gave back to his society. This was accomplished with both the society and the individual being at and in a state of peace.

This pursuit of peace continued in one’s transition in the cycle of life, commonly referred to as death. According to one source:

“Maat was the personification of the fundamental order of the universe, without which all of creation would perish.

The primary duty of the pharaoh was to uphold this order by maintaining the law and administering justice. To reflect this, many pharaohs took the title “Beloved of Maat,” emphasizing their focus on justice and truth.

At any event in which something would be judged, Maat was said to be present, and her name would be invoked so that the judge involved would rule correctly and impartially. In the underworld, the heart of the deceased was weighed by Anubis against Maat’s feather.

If the heart was heavy with wicked deeds, it would outweigh the feather, and the soul would be fed to Ammit.

But if the scales were balanced, indicating that the deceased was a just and honorable person in life, he would be welcomed by Ausar into the Blessed Land. Maat’s presence in all worlds was universal, and all the gods deferred to her.”

The way that one was deemed worthy was by affirmatively answering questions from the 42 Declarations of Innocence, mistakenly named The Negative Confessions.

The names of countries and ethnic groups of Africa indicate their understanding and commitment to establishing peace as a permanent fixture in their everyday lives.

The etymology of Ethiopia has erroneously classified as “burnt face” A different etymology suggested by the late Ethiopian poet laureate Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin traces the name Ethiopia to the “old black Egyptian” words Et (Truth or Peace) Op (high or upper) and Bia (land, country), or “land of higher peace”.

In recent history, the name of the African nation Burkina Faso means “the land of upright people”.  The notion of being “the land of upright people” for the people of Burkina Faso is not restricted to them but within their conception, the name applies to any people who act justly.  The meaning of names such as Ethiopia and Burkina Faso are inseparable from the African understanding of community as seen with the concept of ubuntu.

“Louw (1998) suggests that the concept of ubuntu defines the individual in their several relationships with others, and stresses the importance of ubuntu as a religious concept. He states that while the Zulu maxim umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (“a person is a person through (other) persons”) may have no apparent religious connotations in the context of Western society, in an African context it suggests that the person one is to become by behaving with humanity is an ancestor worthy of respect or veneration. Those who uphold the principle of ubuntu throughout their lives will, in death, achieve a unity with those still living.

Nelson Mandela explained Ubuntu as follows:

A traveler through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?

This notion of ubuntu serves as the basis for rituals of  conflict resolution throughout African society:

In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman, and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual.

Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, each recalling the good things the person in the center of the circle has done in his lifetime.

Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy, is recounted. All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length. This tribal ceremony often lasts for several days. At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe.”

The Acholi  of Uganda, facing war and strife also provide a powerful example of ritual and conflict resolution. From we learn:

“Acholi traditions embody the principles and practices which have been central to the support for reconciliation and amnesty within that community.”

Forgiveness and reconciliation are said to be at the center of the traditional Acholi culture. Traditionally, the Acholi believe in the world of the “living-dead” and divine spirits. Their belief in this world plays a significant role in shaping how they see justice and reconciliation.

The Liu Institute for Global Issues and the Gulu District NGO Forum point out that, “Jok (Gods or divine spirits) and ancestors guide the Acholi moral order, and when a wrong is committed, they send misfortune and illness (cen) until appropriate actions are taken by Elders and the offender.”

As a result, the Acholi discourage an individual from being a troublemaker since the individual’s actions can have grave consequences for his/her whole clan. This “phenomenon illustrates the centrality of relationships between the natural and the supernatural worlds in Acholi, the living and the dead, the normative continuity between an individual and the community.

“The “living-dead” play an active role and have a lot of influence in the world of the living.

The traditional Acholi culture views justice as means of restoring social relations. In other words, justice in the traditional Acholi culture should be considered as restorative. Paramount Chief Rwot David Onen Acana II pointed out that, “The wounds of war will be healed if the Acholi practice their traditional guiding principles.” He pointed out the following as the guiding principles: “Do not be a trouble maker,” “Respect,” “Sincerity,” “Do not steal,” “Reconciliation and harmony,” “Forgiveness,” “Problem solving through discussion,” and “Children, women, and the disabled are not to be harmed in war.”

Most of the principles emphasize the need to live in harmony with others and restoring social relations. This shows that traditionally, the Acholi are a peace-loving people. The Acholi traditional culture encourages individuals to accept their mistakes and take responsibility for their actions. It is important to note that an individual does this voluntarily.

 Individuals are encouraged to forgive and not to seek revenge. One of the mechanisms for forgiveness and reconciliation among the Acholi is the Mato Oput (drinking the bitter herb).”

African society prior to the intrusion of foreign rule, as Dr. John H. Clarke often stated, had no word for “jails”. The relationship between culture and peace can be seen in today’s Jamaica, with the Maroons. The Maroons fought being enslaved by the British in Jamaica and were able to establish autonomous settlements within Jamaica. Today, the Maroon community has the lowest crime rate in all of Jamaica, a country with a alarming high murder per captia rate .

One source states that the Maroon settlement in the parish of St. Elizabeth, did not have a murder in over twenty years.  The Jamaica Gleaner on January 13, 2008 reported:

“As Jamaica grapples with the debilitating effects of crime and violence, the indigenous community of Accompong in St. Elizabeth stands out like an 18th-century Englishman in the hills of the village.

This is because the community, which is famous for its people and its exploits, has not seen a murder over the last 20 years. In fact, the last murder there was committed in the ’80s according to leader of the Maroons, Colonel Sydney Peddie.

Accompong is a Maroon settle-ment perched in the mountains of St. Elizabeth, sandwiched between the parishes of Trelawny and St. James. What makes the Accompong town a phenomenon is that it has had a relatively violent history, with its well-documented battle with the British. However, today, it is one of the few places in Jamaica which has not been besmirched by crime and violence.”

African culture with its initiation  and rites of passage systems provided the structure to inculcate its people with the value system to support its stated goals of peace and conflict resolution.

Today Africa and persons of African ancestry are at the crossroads. Whether it is the child soldiers on the African continent or descendants of Africa who are in gangs in America and other areas, the need for authentic models for conflict resolution is urgently clear.

The African concept of peace was a journey for the individual and community while living as well as in one’s transition to the realm of the ancestors.  The African commitment to peace was an extension of the African view of the spirit, which sought harmony in all realms and cycles of life.


 ©VisionThought 2010. All Rights Reserved.


12 Responses to “Maat, Imhotep & Rituals of Peace: Authentic Models Of Conflict Resolution In African Culture”

  1. You probably already know. Genocide is not just physical but it is economic, cultural, erasing one’s history and ones religion as well. Genocide against Acholi and LUo people through history has involved all the above. A conspiracy to erase Acholi traditional religion and brainwshing the people to feel that their own religion is inferiorthat is what has been happening. In Short there is acornserted effort to make LUo and Acholi give them their great ancient Egyptioan Heritage.

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  4. Greetings:
    Thank you for this posting. The MWM Organization has been working, during the past 10 years on developing Maatic applications that will assist, today, in the necessary obtainment of Justice and healing for our People
    What you have posted here is a very interesting concept and we feel it should be shared and discussed with others. With that said we would like to extend an invitation to you to be on an upcoming segment of the NU Day Resurrection and Liberation” radio program which is aired live each week and is heard worldwide by thousands. If interested,please let us know. We look forward to hearing from you.

    National MWM Sistahood

  5. This is the most enlightening article I have ever read. It illustrates how disconnected we (African Americans) are from the values that elevated our minds to higher standards and our community to an environment of peace and unity. I discovered a new sense of who I am and who we are. Despite our differences -we are one in peace and justice.

  6. Peace and Harmony, I have always felt when I didn’t have them I was not right, I never liked my children being out of order, I went against every one I know and said this is not normal, when people said children will understand when they have their own children, I always rejected that notion and said,” I hope not, I hope we don’t carry this foolishness into the next generation.”
    I think the love of Peace and Harmony is African/Alkebulan.
    Now I think living here in america has it’s own set of challenges, what was done to my ancestors was cruel, I believe that it was done by beast, not humans. I love Peace and Harmony, but the beast don’t, I guess that’s why they call this place the belly of the beast. I don’t love Peace so much that I will allow a beast to have their way with me or mines.

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