Alkebulan | The Original Name For Africa
The Origins of Alkebula – The Birthplace of Mankind
The study of the origin and historical development of the word “Africa” – otherwise called the etymology of Africa – is a contentious topic that many linguistic and historical experts disagree on.
Undeniably, there are many reasons why the etymology of Africa is hard to pinpoint.
Science has proven that the world’s first man came from Africa, and today the continent is home to well over a billion people who are culturally, ethnically and linguistically far from monolithic. By its very nature, therefore, Africa’s roots run deep and are complex, which makes it hard to identify the etymology of Africa or one, universal origin story of the word.
Also, Africa’s history is entrenched in a thorny colonial past. Europeans captured much of Africa’s land, and either enslaved or oppressed her people. Some were forcibly migrated off the continent’s shores, while others remained under duress on their own land. With captured land and bodies, came imposed speech. Many Africans were forced to speak like Europeans and forget their native languages. This led to the loss and even the deliberate misrepresentation of traditional narratives and truths about the continent’s history, making it difficult to identify the etymology of Africa.
Still, there are a bevy of theories about the etymology of Africa, though none have been declared factual. This leaves us to sift through and choose a theory that most resonates with our own ideologies.
Etymology of Africa: Indigenious Origin Theories
One school of thought argues that Africa was originally referred to as Alkebulan by its people, long before the name Africa came about. Alkebulan is an indigenous term that wasn’t given to Africans by Europeans.
In the book Kemetic History of Afrika, celebrated Senegalese historian, the late Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop, asserts that the ancient name of Africa was Alkebu-lan, meaning “mother of mankind” or “garden of eden.” The name Alkebulan, he writes, was used by the Moors, Nubians, Ethiopians and other indigenous people. This theory aligns with Kemetic (Egyptian religious) and Ethiopian texts that anoint Africa as the genesis of creation.
According to Guyanese-born, British professor of African studies, Dr. Ivan Gladstone Van Sertima, the etymology of Africa is linked to the Egyptian word “Afru-ika,” which translated to “motherland.” Like Alkebulan, this theory also assigns indigenous roots to the etymology of Africa.
Another school of thought posits that the Dogons, an ethnic group indigenous to the region of Mali, West Africa, defined people across the continent as AfRAkan. Theorists argue that while the term may appear similar, it’s unlike the word African because it was created by the continent’s people and not a European explorer. AfRAka is defined as, “First-Sun-Soul.” Of course, like Alkebulan and Afru-ika, this theory also assigns indigenous roots to the etymology of Africa.
Etymology of Africa: European Origin Theories
Other theorists believe that the etymology of Africa traces back to Arabic, Roman, Latin and even Dutch infiltration of the continent.
Arabic definition for Africa
The Arabic theory assumes the Arabic word “firk” or “frik,” which means separate, divide, or conquer, is the root for the word of Africa. This assigns an Arabic foundation to the etymology of Africa.
Roman definition for Africa
Other studies on the etymology of Africa theorize that the spelling and popularization of Africa originated from Romans who conquered what is now modern day Tunisia, and identified the continent as Africa terra (the feminine form of Africus, which is Roman mythological deity), meaning the land of the North African tribe, Afri.
Latin definition for Africa
Another etymology of Africa theory posits that the origin of the spelling of Africa stems from the Latin words “Afer,” which means black or dark, and “Aprica,” meaning sunny.
Greek definition for Africa
Still, some argue that the etymology of Africa has Greek origins. Phrike is a Greek word “meaning land of cold and horror.” When preceded by an “A-” prefix, the word Aphrike is formed, which holds the opposite meaning: “land free of cold and horror.” This aptly defines the continent and its climate in contrast to European winters.
Dutch definition for Africa
Another term for the continent was “Afrika.” While phonetically similar to “Africa,” it is believed that the “k” was substituted with the letter “c” to make the word appear more European. This is further supported by a comparison between Dutch and Afrikaan languages. Afrikaan is a language native to South Africa and Namibia. It’s partially creole, which is a fusion of multiple languages, but is around 90% Dutch. The big change Afrikaan makes from traditional Dutch is replacing the hard “c” with a “k.”
We’re sure these theories only scratch the surface of the complicated etymology of Africa.
From Alkebulan, to Afru-ika, Afraka, Afri, Afer, Aprica and Afrika, the true etymology of Africa is still under-determined, even though the word itself was arguably born in the late 17th century. How will you determine the truth about the etymology of Africa? We say, go with whatever resonates with you – whatever your gut feels is true.
Visit These Countries in Africa to Learn About the Origin of Mankind
The etymology of the word Africa is difficult to resolve, because it’s the birthplace of mankind and its history is ancient. If you’re interested in learning more about the origin of human life, here are the key countries to visit in Africa.
In the 1950s and 60s, anthropologists found several ancestors of humankind in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. This spawned further exploration for ancestral remains across East Africa. The fossils found throughout this area are around 1.8 – 2 million years old. Clues about human ancestor’s habitats and ways of living were also discovered. Scientists have since found hundreds of fossils here, and visitors can explore the territory at the Olduvai Gorge Museum.
Then, in 1974, the skeleton of the first ancestor of humans was found in Hadar, Ethiopia. This fossil is said to be 3.8 million years old. Today, a replica of Lucy can be found at the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where her skeletons are stored in a safe only accessible to scientists and other official personnel. The oldest remains of modern humans were also found in Ethiopia, and are said to be 230,000 years old. Ethiopia is a great place to visit to learn about the history of both the ancestors of humans, who are called hominins, and also the first modern humans.
By 1999, UNESCO declared the Cradle of Humankind in South Africa, an official World Heritage Site. This region in South Africa, which sits about 30 miles away from Johannesburg, is where scientists found the oldest known fossils of man, which was at least 3 million years old. You can actually visit the Cradle of Humankind site in South Africa, where you’ll learn not only about the oldest known fossil of man, but also a ton about the overall history of humans on Earth.