Cheikh Anta Diop

Cheikh Anta Diop (29 December 1923 – 7 February 1986) was a Senegalese historian, anthropologist, physicist, and politician who studied the human race's origins and pre-colonial African culture.[1] Though Diop is sometimes referred to as an Afrocentrist, he predates the concept. However, "Diopian thought", as it is called, is paradigmatic to Afrocentricity.[2] His work was greatly controversial and throughout his career, Diop argued that there was a shared cultural continuity across African peoples that was more important than the varied development of different ethnic groups shown by differences among languages and cultures over time.[3]

Cheikh Anta Diop
Cheikh Anta Diop, late 1940s.jpg
Diop as a university student in Paris in the late 1940s
Born(1923-12-29)29 December 1923
Died7 February 1986(1986-02-07) (aged 62)
OccupationHistorian, anthropologist, physicist, politician

Diop's work has posed questions about cultural bias in scientific research.[4] Cheikh Anta Diop University (formerly known as the University of Dakar), in Dakar, Senegal, is named after him.[5][6]

Diop's works have been criticized as revisionist and pseudohistorical.[7][8] According to Marnie Hughes-Warrington, Diop's works were criticised by leading French Africanists, but they (and later critics) noted the value of his works for the generation of a "politically useful mythology", that would promote African unity.[9]

Early life and careerEdit

Diop at high school in Dakar

Born in Thieytou, Diourbel Region, Senegal, Diop belonged to an aristocratic Muslim Wolof family in Senegal where he was educated in a traditional Islamic school. Diop's family was part of the Mouride brotherhood, the only independent Muslim fraternity in Africa according to Diop.[10] He obtained the colonial equivalent of the metropolitan French baccalauréat in Senegal before moving to Paris to study for a degree.[11]

Studies in ParisEdit

In 1946, at the age of 23, Diop went to Paris to study. He initially enrolled to study higher mathematics, but then enrolled to study philosophy in the Faculty of Arts of the University of Paris. He gained his first degree (licence) in philosophy in 1948, then enrolled in the Faculty of Sciences, receiving two diplomas in chemistry in 1950.

In 1949, Diop registered a proposed title for a Doctor of Letters thesis, "The Cultural Future of African thought," under the direction of Professor Gaston Bachelard. In 1951 he registered a second thesis title "Who were the pre-dynastic Egyptians" under Professor Marcel Griaule. He completed his thesis on pre-dynastic Egypt in 1954 but could not find a jury of examiners for it: he later published many of his ideas as the book Nations nègres et culture. In 1956 he re-registered a new proposed thesis for Doctor of Letters with the title "The areas of matriarchy and patriarchy in ancient times." From 1956, he taught physics and chemistry in two Paris lycees as an assistant master, before moving to the College de France. In 1957 he registered his new thesis title "Comparative study of political and social systems of Europe and Africa, from Antiquity to the formation of modern states." The new topics did not relate to ancient Egypt but were concerned with the forms of organisation of African and European societies and how they evolved. He obtained his doctorate in 1960.[11]

In 1953, he first met Frédéric Joliot-Curie, Marie Curie's son-in-law, and in 1957 Diop began specializing in nuclear physics at the Laboratory of Nuclear Chemistry of the College de France which Frederic Joliot-Curie ran until his death in 1958, and the Institut Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris. He ultimately translated parts of Einstein's Theory of Relativity into his native Wolof.[12]

According to Diop's own account, his education in Paris included History, Egyptology, Physics, Linguistics, Anthropology, Economics, and Sociology.[4][13] In Paris, Diop studied under André Aymard, professor of History and later Dean of the Faculty of Letters at the University of Paris and he said that he had "gained an understanding of the Greco-Latin world as a student of Gaston Bachelard, Frédéric Joliot-Curie, André Leroi-Gourhan, and others". Diop said that he "acquired proficiency in such diverse disciplines as rationalism, dialectics, modern scientific techniques, prehistoric archeology and so on." Diop also claimed to be "the only Black African of his generation to have received training as an Egyptologist" and "more importantly" he "applied this encyclopedic knowledge to his researches on African history."[14]

In 1948 Diop edited with Madeleine Rousseau, a professor of art history, a special edition of the journal Musée vivant, published by the Association populaire des amis des musées (APAM). APAM had been set up in 1936 by people on the political left wing to bring culture to wider audiences. The special edition of the journal was on the occasion of the centenary of the abolition of slavery in the French colonies and aimed to present an overview of issues in contemporary African culture and society. Diop contributed an article to the journal: "Quand pourra-t-on parler d'une renaissance africaine" (When we will be able to speak of an African Renaissance?). He examined various fields of artistic creation, with a discussion of African languages, which, he said, would be the sources of regeneration in African culture. He proposed that African culture should be rebuilt on the basis of ancient Egypt, in the same way that European culture was built upon the legacies of ancient Greece and Rome.[15] In his 1954 thesis, Diop argued that ancient Egypt had been populated by Black people. He specified that he used the terms "negro", "black", "white" and "race" as "immediate givens" in the Bergsonian sense, and went on to suggest operational definitions of these terms.[16] He said that the Egyptian language and culture had later been spread to West Africa. When he published many of his ideas as the book Nations nègres et culture (Negro Nations and Culture), it made him one of the most controversial historians of his time.[17][18]

Critique of DiopEdit

Diop's work has been subjected to criticism from a number of scholars. Robert O. Collins, a former history professor at University of California, Santa Barbara, and James M. Burns, a professor in history at Clemson University, have both referred to Diop's writings of Ancient Egypt and his theories, characterizing it as "revisionist".[7] Toyin Falola has called Diop's work "passionate, combative, and revisionist".[19] Santiago Juan-Navarro a professor at Florida International University has described Diop as having "undertaken the task of supporting this Afrocentric view of history from an equally radical and 'mythic' point of view".[20] Diop's book "Civilization or Barbarism" was summarized as Afrocentric pseudohistory by academic and author Robert Todd Carroll.[8]


Cheikh Anta Diop was awarded the Grand prix de la mémoire of the GPLA 2015; and the University Cheikh Anta Diop of Dakar bears his name.


  • Rousseau, Madeleine and Cheikh Anta Diop (1948), "1848 Abolition de l'esclavage – 1948 evidence de la culture nègre", Le musée vivant, issue 36–37. Special issue of journal "consacré aux problèmes culturels de l'Afrique noire a été établi par Madeleine Rousseaux et Cheikh Anta Diop". Paris: APAM, 1948.
  • (1954) Nations nègres et culture, Paris: Éditions Africaines. Second edition (1955), Nations nègres et culture: de l'antiquité nègre-égyptienne aux problèmes culturels de l'Afrique noire d'aujourd'hui, Paris: Éditions Africaines. Third edition (1973), Paris: Présence Africaine, ISBN 2-7087-0363-3, ISBN 2-7087-0362-5. Fourth edition (1979), ISBN 2-7087-0688-8.
  • (1959) L'unité culturelle de l'Afrique noire: domaines du patriarcat et du matriarcat dans l'antiquité classique, Paris: Présence Africaine. Second edition (c. 1982), Paris: Présence Africaine, ISBN 2-7087-0406-0, ISBN 978-2-7087-0406-0. English edition (1959), The Cultural Unity of Negro Africa Paris. Subsequent English edition (c. 1962), Paris: Présence Africaine. English edition (1978), The Cultural Unity of Black Africa: the domains of patriarchy and of matriarchy in classical antiquity, Chicago: Third World Press, ISBN 0-88378-049-6. Subsequent English edition (1989) London: Karnak House, ISBN 0-907015-44-1.
  • (1960) L' Afrique noire pré-coloniale. Étude comparée des systèmes politiques et sociaux de l'Europe et de l'Afrique noire, de l'antiquité à la formation des états modernes, Paris: Présence africaine. Second edition (1987), ISBN 2-7087-0479-6. (1987), Precolonial Black Africa: a comparative study of the political and social systems of Europe and Black Africa, from antiquity to the formation of modern states. Translated by Harold J. Salemson. Westport, Conn.: L. Hill, ISBN 0-88208-187-X, ISBN 0-88208-188-8, ISBN 978-0-88208-187-8, ISBN 978-0-88208-188-5.
  • (1960) Les Fondements culturels, techniques et industriels d'un futur état fédéral d'Afrique noire, Paris. Second revised and corrected edition (1974), Les Fondements économiques et culturels d'un état fédéral d'Afrique noire, Paris: Présence Africaine.
  • (1967) Antériorité des civilisations nègres: mythe ou vérité historique? Series: Collection Préhistoire-antiquité négro-africaine, Paris: Présence Africaine. Second edition (c. 1993), ISBN 2-7087-0562-8, ISBN 978-2-7087-0562-3.
  • (1968) Le laboratoire de radiocarbone de l'IFAN. Series: Catalogues et documents, Institut Français d'Afrique Noire No. 21.
  • (1974) The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality (translation of sections of Antériorité des civilisations négres and Nations nègres et culture). Translated from the French by Mercer Cook. New York: L. Hill, ISBN 0-88208-021-0, ISBN 0-88208-022-9
  • (1974) Physique nucléaire et chronologie absolue. Dakar: IFAN. Initiations et études Africaines no. 31.
  • (1977) Parenté génétique de l'égyptien pharaonique et des langues négro-africaines: processus de sémitisation, Ifan-Dakar: Les Nouvelles Éditions Africaines, ISBN 2-7236-0162-5.
  • (1978) Black Africa: the economic and cultural basis for a federated state. Translation by Harold Salemson of Fondements économiques et culturels d'un état fédéral d'Afrique noire. Westport, Conn.: Lawrence Hill & Co, ISBN 0-88208-096-2, ISBN 1-55652-061-1. New expanded edition (1987) ISBN 0-86543-058-6 (Africa World Press), ISBN 0-88208-223-X.
  • UNESCO Symposium on the Peopling of Ancient Egypt and the Deciphering of Meroitic Script. Cheikh Anta Diop (ed.) (1978), The peopling of ancient Egypt and the deciphering of Meroitic script: proceedings of the symposium held in Cairo from 28 January to 3 February 1974, UNESCO. Subsequent edition (1997), London: Karnak House, ISBN 0-907015-99-9.
  • (c. 1981) Civilisation ou barbarie: anthropologie sans complaisance, Présence Africaine, ISBN 2-7087-0394-3, ISBN 978-2-7087-0394-0. English edition (c. 1991), Civilization or Barbarism: an authentic anthropology Translated from the French by Yaa-Lengi Meema Ngemi, edited by Harold J. Salemson and Marjolijn de Jager. Brooklyn, NY: Lawrence Hill Books, c1991. ISBN 1-55652-048-4, ISBN 1-55652-048-4, ISBN 1-55652-049-2.
  • (1989) Nouvelles recherches sur l'égyptien ancien et les langues négro-africaines modernes, Paris: Présence Africaine, ISBN 2-7087-0507-5.
  • (1989) Egypte ancienne et Afrique Noire. Reprint of article in Bulletin de l'IFAN, vol. XXIV, series B, no. 3-4, 1962, pp. 449 à 574. Université de Dakar. Dakar: IFAN.
  • (c. 1990) Alerte sous les tropiques: articles 1946–1960: culture et développement en Afrique noire, Paris: Présence africaine, ISBN 2-7087-0548-2. English edition (1996), Towards the African renaissance: essays in African culture & development, 1946–1960. Translated by Egbuna P. Modum. London: Karnak House, ISBN 0-907015-80-8, ISBN 0-907015-85-9.
  • Joseph-Marie Essomba (ed.) (1996), Cheikh Anta Diop: son dernier message à l'Afrique et au monde. Series: Sciences et connaissance. Yaoundé, Cameroun: Editions AMA/COE.
  • (2006) Articles: publiés dans le bulletin de l'IFAN, Institut fondamental d'Afrique noire (1962–1977). Series: Nouvelles du sud; no 35-36. Yaoundé: Silex. ISBN 2-912717-15-9, ISBN 978-2-912717-15-3, ISBN 978-9956-444-12-0, ISBN 9956-444-12-X.


  • Présence Africaine (ed.) (1989), Hommage à Cheikh Anta Diop – Homage to Cheikh Anta Diop, Paris: Special Présence Africaine, New Bilingual Series N° 149–150.
  • Prince Dika-Akwa nya Bonambéla (ed.) (2006), Hommage du Cameroun au professeur Cheikh Anta Diop, Dakar: Panafrika. Dakar: Nouvelles du Sud. ISBN 2-912717-35-3, ISBN 978-2-912717-35-1.


  1. ^ Gates, Jr., Henry Louis; Appiah, Kwame Anthony, eds. (2010). "Diop, Cheikh Anta". Encyclopedia of Africa. University of Oxford Press. ISBN 9780195337709.
  2. ^ Molefi Kete Asante, "Cheikh Anta Diop: An Intellectual Portrait" (Univ of Sankore Press: December 30, 2007)
  3. ^ Cheikh, Anta Diop, The Cultural Unity of Negro Africa (Paris: Présence Africaine, 1963), English translation: The Cultural Unity of Black Africa: The Domains of Patriarchy and of Matriarchy in Classical Antiquity (London: Karnak House: 1989), pp. 53–111.
  4. ^ a b John G. Jackson and Runoko Rashidi, Introduction To African Civilizations (Citadel: 2001), ISBN 0-8065-2189-9, pp. 13–175.
  5. ^ Touré, Maelenn-Kégni, "Cheikh Anta Diop University (1957--)",
  6. ^ "University Cheikh Anta Diop", Encyclopædia Britannica.
  7. ^ a b Robert O. Collins, James M. Burns (8 February 2007). A History of Sub-Saharan Africa. Cambridge University Press. p. 28. ISBN 9780521687089.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  8. ^ a b Robert Carroll (11 January 2011). The Skeptic's Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions. John Wiley & Sons. p. 8. ISBN 9781118045633.
  9. ^ Hughes-Warrington, Marnie (2007-10-31). Fifty Key Thinkers on History. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-134-21249-1.
  10. ^ S. Ademola Ajayi, "Cheikh Anta Diop" in Kevin Shillington (ed.), Encyclopedia of African History.
  11. ^ a b "ANKH: Egyptologie et Civilisations Africaines". Retrieved 2017-05-31.
  12. ^ Diop, Cheikh Anta, Bernard Nantet (ed.), Dictionnaire de l'Afrique, Paris: Larousse, page 96.
  13. ^ Chris Gray, Conceptions of History in the Works of Cheikh Anta Diop and Theophile Obenga (Karnak House:1989) 11-155,
  14. ^ Diop, C. A., The African Origin of Civilization—Myth or Reality: Chicago, IL: Lawrence Hill Books, 1974. pp. ix.
  15. ^ Danielle Maurice. "Le musée vivant et le centenaire de l'abolition de l'esclavage: pour une reconnaissance des cultures africaines". Conserveries mémorielles, revue transdisciplinaire de jeunes chercheurs. Retrieved 2017-05-31.
  16. ^ Bulletin de l'IFAN, Vol. XXIV, pp. 3–4, 1962.
  17. ^ Cheikh Anta Diop, The Cultural Unity of Negro Africa (Paris: Présence Africaine, 1963), English translation: The Cultural Unity of Black Africa: The Domains of Patriarchy and of Matriarchy in Classical Antiquity (London: Karnak House, 1989).
  18. ^ Doué Gnonsoa, Cheikh Anta Diop, Théophile Obenga: combat pour la Re-naissance africaine, éd. L'Harmattan, 2003.
  19. ^ Toyin Falola (2004). "Nationalism and African Intellectuals". University Rochester Press: 224. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  20. ^ Santiago Juan-Navarro. Archival Reflections: Postmodern Fiction of the Americas (self-reflexivity, Historical Revisionism, Utopia). Bucknell University Press. p. 151.

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