HAMITIC:* (from the biblical Ham) is a historical term in ethnology and linguistics for a division of the Caucasian race and the group of related languages these populations spoke. “Hamitic” was applied to the non-Semitic languages in the Afroasiatic family, which was thus formerly labelled “Hamito-Semitic”. The Hamitic languages were classified as including the Berber, Cushitic and Egyptian branches. However, since these branches have not been shown to form an exclusive (monophyletic) phylogenetic unit of their own, separate from other Afroasiatic languages, linguists no longer use the term in this sense. Each of these branches is instead now regarded as an independent subgroup of the larger Afroasiatic family.
Beginning in the 19th century, scholars generally classified the Hamitic race as a subgroup of the Caucasian race, along with the Semitic race – thus grouping the non-Semitic populations native to North Africa and the Horn of Africa, including the Ancient Egyptians. According to the Hamitic theory, this “Hamitic race” was superior to or more advanced than Negroid populations of Sub-Saharan Africa. In its most extreme form, in the writings of C. G. Seligman, this theory asserted that virtually all significant achievements in African history were the work of “Hamites” who had migrated into central Africa as pastoralists, bringing new customs, languages, technologies and administrative skills with them. In the early 20th century, theoretical models of Hamitic languages and of Hamitic races were intertwined.
This nomenclature gradually fell out of favour between the 1960s and 1980s, in large part due to its perceived association with colonial paternalism. The populations of Hamitic ancestral stock are now more commonly known as “Caucasoid”.
Concept of the Curse of Ham
The term Hamitic originally referred to the peoples said to be descended from Ham, one of the Sons of Noah according to the Bible. According to the Book of Genesis, after Noah became drunk and Ham dishonored his father, upon awakening Noah pronounced a curse on Ham’s youngest son, Canaan, stating that his offspring would be the “servants of servants”. Of Ham’s four sons, Canaan fathered the Canaanites, while Mizraim fathered the Egyptians, Cush the Cushites, and Phut the Libyans.
During the Middle Ages, believing Jews, Christians, and Muslims incorrectly considered Ham to be the ancestor of all Africans. Noah’s curse on Canaan as described in Genesis began to be misinterpreted by some scholers in Europe as having caused visible racial characteristics in all of Ham’s offspring, notably black skin. According to Edith Sanders, the sixth-century Babylonian Talmud says that “the descendants of Ham are cursed by being Black and [it] depicts Ham as a sinful man and his progeny as degenerates.” Some Arab slave traders used the account of Noah and Ham in the Bible to justify Negro (Zanj) slavery, and later European and American Christian traders and slave owners adopted a similar argument.
However, the Bible itself indicates that Noah restricted his curse to the offspring of Ham’s youngest son Canaan, whose descendants occupied the Levant, and it was not extended to Ham’s other sons, who had migrated into Africa. According to Sanders, 18th-century theologians increasingly emphasized this narrow restriction and accurate interpretation of the passage as applying to Canaan’s offspring. They rejected the curse as a justification for slavery.
In the 19th century Meyers Konversations-Lexikon (1885–90), Hamitic was a subdivision of the Caucasian race alongside Aryan (Indo-European) and Semitic (Semitic languages). Sergi outlined the constituent Hamitic physical types, which would form the basis for the work of later scholars. In his book The Mediterranean Race (1901), he asserted that there was a distinct Hamitic ancestral stock, which could be divided into two subgroups: the Western Hamites (or Northern Hamites), and the Eastern Hamites (or Ethiopids).
According to Ashley Montagu, “among both the Northern and Eastern Hamites are to be found some of the most beautiful types of humanity”. Typical Hamitic physical traits included narrow facial features; an orthognathous visage; light brown to dark brown skin tone; wavy, curly or straight hair; thick to thin lips without eversion; and a dolichocephalic to mesocephalic cranial index. These somatic attributes varied depending on the environment and through contact with non-Hamitic stocks. Among the Western Hamites, Semitic and Negroid influences could be found in urban areas, with a Nordic strain present in the northwestern mountains. Similar non-Hamitic elements also existed among the Eastern Hamites, but with a more marked Negroid influence in areas bordering the Upper Nile and Great Lakes and a pronounced Armenoid strain in the Eastern Desert.
Although the particulars of the Eastern Hamitic and Western Hamitic groupings varied, they were generally as follows:
- Berbers – Hamitic autochthones of the Maghreb and parts of the Nile Valley. Descended from the Meshwesh, Tehenu and other Ancient Libyan tribes.
- Guanches – Berber-speaking natives of the Canary Islands. Although now extinct, left behind a number of descendants on the archipelago.
- Maghrebis – Berber indigenes of the non-rural Maghreb. Descended from the Ancient Libyan tribes, but adopted Arabian genealogies and the Arabic language with the spread of Islam during the Middle Ages.
- Moors – Arabic-speaking Berber natives of the Western Sahara.
- Tuareg – Technically a Berber population of the Sahara. However, distinguished by a more pronounced dolichocephaly and greater height. Only Berber group to preserve the ancient Libyco-Berber writing script, known today as Tifinagh.
- Abyssinians – Hamitic inhabitants of the Ethiopian and Eritrean highlands. Essentially Semiticized Agaws.
- Afar – Cushitic-speaking Hamitic population of the Horn region. Also known as the Danakil.
- Agaw – Root Hamitic stock of northern and central Ethiopia. Speak the original Cushitic languages of the Abyssinians.
- Beja – Cushitic-speaking Hamitic confederation inhabiting Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt. An ancient population, they are attested on temple murals as early as the Twelfth Dynasty.
- Egyptians – Descendants of the Hamitic ancient Egyptians. This pharaonic heritage is most salient among the Copts and Fellahin, with the Coptic language representing a variety of the old Egyptian language.
- Oromo – Hamitic inhabitants of Ethiopia and environs. Also known as the Galla, they are believed to have introduced many cultural and lexical elements to communities in the Great Lakes region to the south.
- Nubians – Descendants of the Hamitic populations of ancient Nubia, such as the makers of the A-Group, C-Group and Kerma cultures. In later times, they adopted the Nilo-Saharan (Nobiin) lingua franca of the local Sudanese market towns.
- Somalis – Hamitic inhabitants of the Horn. Descended from the Cushitic-speaking natives of the ancient Barbara region.
In the Sahara, on the margins of the Hamitic nucleus in the northwest and northeast, several populations speaking non-Hamitic languages yet possessing some Hamitic physical affinities could be found. Among these were the Fulani, who were believed to have been of Berber origin. Beginning in the late medieval period, as they assimilated into the burgeoning states of the Western Sudan, the Fulani are thought to have gradually adopted the Niger-Congo tongue of their urban neighbors. As a result, the Hamitic element was most marked among the Bororo and other pastoral Fulani groups rather than in the Fulanin Gidda settled communities. Similarly, the Toubou of the Tibesti Mountains were held to have descended from the ancient Garamantes. This Hamitic ancestry was believed to be most salient among the northern Teda Toubou, as the southern Daza Toubou often intermarried with the adjacent Nilotic populations.
|Canaan (son of Ham)asdasds|
|Phut (son of Ham)asdasds|
|Mizraim (son of Ham)asdasds|
|Cush (son of Ham)asdasds|