The Nubians and Olmecs


Clyde Winters

Haslip-Viera, Ortiz de Montellano and Barbour (1997) have argued that Olmec civilization was not influenced by Africans and therefore Afrocentrism should have no standing in higher education, but in fact it can be illustrated that the facial types as sociated with the Olmec people and Meroitic people are identical; and that Olmec figurines such as the Tuxtla statuette excavation are inscribed with African writing used by the Mande people of West Africa (Wiener, 1922; Winters, 1979 , of Manding writing provide the "absolute proof " recovered by archaeologists from "controlled excavations in the New World" demanded by Haslip-Viera, Ortiz de Montellano and Barbour (1997: 419) to "proof"/confirm Olmec and African contact.

The failure of Haslip- Viera, Ortiz de Montellano and Barbour (1997) to realize an African presence in PreColumbian America, is the result of their ignorance of the normal science of ancient Afrocentric studies (Winters, 1996). Haslip-Viera, Ortiz d e Montellano and Barbour (1997: 419) assume that ancient Afrocentric research is the result of the "cultural nationalism of the 1960's and 1970's. This view is false. The ancient Afrocentric studies research tradition was developed before the 1960's (Wint ers, 1994, 1996). The ancient Afrocentric studies research tradition reflects almost two hundred years of original research in the area of ancient Afrocentric studies ( Winters, 1994, 1996). Contrary to the views of Haslip-Viera, Ortiz de Montellano and Barbour (1997) ancient Afrocentric historical research makes ancient Afrocentric area studies a valid field of research (Winters, 1994). Haslip-Viera, Ortiz de Montellano and Barbour (1997) criticized the view held by many Afrocentrist that the Olmec peo ple were Africans, due to the research of Ivan van Sertima. Use of van Sertima (1976) by Haslip-Viera, Ortiz de Montellano and Barbour (1997: 419) to denigrate Afrocentrism is unfair, because this researcher has made it clear since the publication of his book They came before Columbus in 1976, that he is not an Afrocentrist. Although Haslip-Viera, Ortiz de Montellano and Barbour (1997: 431) acknowledge this truth in there rebuttal of van Sertima, the authors refer to Afrocentrist as purveyors of "ras m", interested only in denying the authentic role of Native Americans in the rise of American civilizations.

Haslip-Viera, Ortiz de Montellano and Barbour (1997: 419, 423-25) argue that the claims of the Afrocentrists claims that the Olmecs were Africans, must be rejected because 1) the Olmecs do not look like Nubians, and 2) the absence of an African artifact recovered from an archaeological excavation. These authors are wrong on both counts, there are numerous resemblance between the ancient Olmec people and ancient Nubians, and an African artifact: Manding writing, is engraved on many Olmec artifacts discovered during archaeological excavation (Winters, 1979, 1997)

Haslip-Viera, Ortiz de Montellano and Barbour (1997) argue that the Olmecs could not have been Nubians or Kushites of the Napata-Meroe civilization, as claimed by van Sertima (1976) because the Olmec civilization preceded the civilization of the Kushites by hundreds of years. They also claim that the Olmecs had flat noses, while the Nubians had "thinner noses" because they lived in the desert (Haslip-Viera, Ortiz de Montellano & Barbour, 1997:423).

This view is false. The ancient Nubians like African- Americans today were not monolithic, they had different hues of skin, facial features and nose shapes (Keita, 1996: 104). This is evident in from the wall-painting from the tomb-chapel of Sebekhotep at Thebes, c.1400 BC, which show Nubians, of different types bringing rings of gold, incense and other luxury items to the Egyptian Pharaoh (Taylor, 1991).

One of the major Pharoahs of Egypt and Nubia/Kush was Taharqo. The Sphinx of Taharqo c. 690-664 BC, found in Temple 1 at Kawa and the shabti (tomb figure) of Taharqo in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is strikingly similar in facial features, including, the short round face, thick lips and flat nose associated with the Olmec people (Taylor, 1991).

King Taharqa

Moreover a comparison of Olmec heads and a bust of Taharqo illustrated striking similarities when they were placed along side each other (Winters, 1984b:47). The iconographic evidence of the ancient Nubians clearly indicate that there were many round faced, thick lipped, flat nosed Nubians described in the Classical literature (Snowden, 1996: 106) that fit the archtypical Olmec ruler type ( Haslip-Viera, Ortiz de Montellano and Barbour, 1997).

Although the Olmec and Meroitic iconographic documents share many analogous facial features , we must admit that the Nubian hypothesis for the Olmecs must be rejected. It must be rejected because the Kings of Meroitic Kush, and the Olmec Kings existed during different historical eras. The Haslip-Viera, Ortiz de Montellano and Barbour (1997) argument regarding van Sertima's Egypto-Nubian hypothesis has merit . It highlights the failure of van Sertima (1976) to critically read the sources of Africans in ancient America and study the archaeology of West Africa and the Sahara. A cursory reading of Wiener (1922) would have made it clear that the founders of the Olmec civilization were Mande/Manding speaking people.

Comparison of a Nuba and Olmec Head

I was misrepresented by Haslip-Viera, Ortiz de Montellano and Barbour (1997: 421). They claim that I support the Egypto- Nubian hypothesis of van Sertima, and belong to the so-called "extreme" Afrocentric position on Olmec civilization (Haslip- Viera, Ortiz de Montellano and Barbour, 1997: 421)

Granted, van Sertima (1976) was wrong about the identity of the Olmecs , but he was correct in claiming that the Olmecs were of African origin. And, there is no denying the fact that Africans early settled the Americas ( Wiener, 1920-1922; von Wuthenau, 1980).

Never in any of my publications on Olmec and African contact have I ever claimed that the Egypto-Nubians had contact with the Olmecs (Winters, 1979, 1981/1982,1983, 1984a, 1984c, 1997). Following Wiener (1922) I have maintained all along the traditional Afrocentric view of Olmec and African paradigm that the Manding speaking West Africans had contact with the Olmec.

Wiener (1922) based his identification of the Manding influence over the Olmecs (eventhough he was unaware of this people at the time) through his identification of Manding writing on the Tuxtla statuette which was created by the Olmecs (Soustelle, 1984; Tate, 1995).

The major evidence for the African origin of the Olmecs comes from the writing of the Maya and Olmec people. As mentioned earlier most experts believe that the Mayan writing system came from the Olmecs (Soustelle, 1984). The evidence of African styl e writing among the Olmecs is evidence for Old World influence in Mexico. The Olmecs have left numerous symbols or signs inscribed on pottery, statuettes, batons/scepters, stelas and bas-reliefs that have been recognized as writing ( Soustelle, 1984; von Wuthenau, 1980; Winters, 1979). The view that the Olmecs were the fir st Americans to 1) invent a complex system of chronology, 2) a method of calculating time, and 3) a hieroglyphic script which was later adopted by Izapan and Mayan civilizations, is now accepted by practically all Meso-American specialist (Soustelle, (1984).

In 1979, I announced the decipherment of the Olmec writing (Winters, 1979). It is generally accepted that the decipherment of an unknown language/script requires 1) bilingual texts and/or 2) knowledge of the cognate language(s). It has long been felt by many Meso-Americanist that the Olmec writing met non of these criteria because, no one knew exactly what language was spoken by the Olmec that appear suddenly at San Lorenzo and La Venta in Veracruz, around 1200 B.C.

The view that Africans originated writing in America is not new. Scholars early recognized the affinity between Amerindian scripts and the Mande script(s) (Wiener, 1922, v.3; Rafinesque, 1832). In 1832, Rafinesque noted the similarities between the Mayan glyphs and the Libyco-Berber writing. And Leo Wiener (1922, v.3), was the first researcher to recognize the resemblances between the Manding writing and the symbols on the Tuxtla statuette. In addition, Harold Lawrence (1962) noted that the "petroglyphic" inscriptions found throughout much of the southern hemisphere compared identically with the writing system of the Manding.

The second evidence pointing to the Manding origin of the Olmec writing was provided by Leo Wiener in Africa and the Discovery of America (1922,v.3). Wiener presented evidence that the High Civilizations of Mexico (Maya and Aztecs) had acquired many o f the cultural and religious traditions of the Malinke-Bambara (Manding people) of West Africa. In volume 3, of Africa and the Discovery of America, Wiener discussed the analogy between the glyphs on the Tuxtla statuette and the Manding glyphs engraved on rocks in Mandeland.

Up until 1995, there were only a few published Olmec inscriptions (Winters, 1979). Today there are many Olmec inscriptions published in Jill Gutherie (1995) catalogue for the exhibition "The Olmec World: Ritual and Rulership", organized by the Art Mu seum of Princeton University. Manding Origin of Mayan term for Writing

The linguistic evidence (Brown, 1991), forces us to aknowledge that the Mayan term *c'ib is probably derived from Manding *Se'be. This provides the best hypothesis for the origin of the Mayan term for writing given the fact that the Mayan /c/ corr eponds to the Manding /s/, and the archaeological and linguistic evidence which indicate that the Maya did not have writing in Proto-Mayan times. And as a result, the term for writing had to have come into the Mayan languages after the separation of Proto -Maya. This would explain the identification of the Olmec or Xi/Shi people as Manding speakers. In addition to the Manding origin of the Mayan term for writing, there are a number Mayan terms that are derived from the Olmec language .

In conclusion, the Manding speaking ancestors of the Olmecs came from the Saharan zone of North Africa (Winters, 1983, 1984c, 1986). Here the Proto-Olmecs left their earliest inscriptions at Oued Mertoutek (Winters, 1979,1983). They took a full fledged literate culture to Mexico.

This view is supported both by 1) our ability to read the Olmec inscriptions; 2) confirmation that the Mayan term for writing *c'ib, is of Manding origin; and 3) the symbols for Mayan writing are cognate to the Manding writing systems used in Africa . Moreover, the evidence presented in this paper makes it clear that the people who introduced writing to the Maya when they met at Nonoulco, may have been Manding speaking Olmecs.. Discovery at Olmec sites such as LaVenta Offering No.4 , of Manding writing provide the "absolute proof " of African and Olmec contact. The presence of readable African writing on Olmec celts, masks and statues, is the genuine African artifact found "in controlled excavations in the New World" demanded by Haslip-Viera, Ortiz de Montellano and Barbour (1997: 419) that confirms the Afrocentric claim of ancient African and Olmec contact.


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