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Nilotic Spirituality and Philosophy

Some of the oldest spiritual beliefs known to man emerge in Eastern Africa along the Nile Valley. To understand the religion of the Nile Valley, where Egypt rose to greatest prominence, Egyptologist E.A. Wallis Budge stated one had to understand Africa. Beyond dress and art, no other relationship stands out more between Egypt and Africa than in the area of spirituality. Many of Egypt's belief systems can be traced back to inner Africa itself. Cheikh Anta Diop wrote, "Negro cosmogonies, African and Egyptian, resemble each other so closely that they are often complementary. Such similarities include the following: the use of zootypes (animals) in religious figures; the veneration of ancestors; the emphasis on cattle cults found throughout Africa, especially East Africa; the notion of the god-king; etc.

Certain religious rituals now extinct in Egypt are still practiced in such regions as Somalia. And these spiritual belief systems form the basis of Egypto-Nubian philosophy. Nubian archaeologist Bruce Williams states, "The way of looking at the world to be found in, say the Hebrew Bible or in Babylonia literature or amongst the Greeks is very different from anything you find in Egypt. And that difference is its Africaness." To fully discuss the cosmological complexities of this region's spiritual system and their relationship to Africa would take volumes. Thus below only a few points will be touched upon.

Understanding the spiritual beliefs that permeated Egypt, Nubia and the Nile Valley must begin with an understanding of their concept of deity. In Egypt there existed a host of deities each of whom were thought to affect the universe. Some of these were Auset, Ausar, Ra, etc. However these deities were not exactly thought to be separate from each other. All existed in conjunction with the other, sometimes even blending or usurping another's role. Take for instance Amen-Ra. Both were "separate" deities whom the Egyptians wasted no time in placing together. The reason deities could so easily be placed together to form a new deity was because of the African law of interconnectedness between deities. The interconnection of these deities easily lent itself in Egypt to the idea of a single God deity. This all-powerful and faceless deity was called at times Neter. The many manifestations Neter took were called the neteru: Auset, Ausar, Ra, etc. This can be found in a host of African spiritual systems where a supreme being is regarded as the "Creator" or "Chief Deity" among others. The example of Oldumare's supremacy in the Yoruba pantheon is a prime example. The move to a more extreme form of monotheism was attempted under the Egyptian ruler Akhenaton with less than successful results. It would seem the Egyptians, like their African counterparts, liked their many manifestations.

Many of these neteru were thought to have once been rulers or wise men. The "Souls of Neken," legendary predynastic rulers worshipped in Egypt, are now known to have actually existed. This idea of ancestral worship is found throughout Africa. Many African people impute the souls of dead ancestors a godlike ability to bring good fortune or dire consequences. The souls of dead kings are said to be especially important. In Yoruba the Orishas are said to be ancestral spirits, many of them past rulers, whom determine human life. In Uganda, kings are believed to continue watching over their people long after death. Special temples are even built through which their spirits can be consulted for advice. Pictured is a statue from ancient times of the neteru deity Ausar, believed to be the first king of Egypt who ascends to godhood.

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