A history of the Hamitic hypothesis, from its origins in the story of Noah’s disgraced son Ham in the book of Genesis to its presence in the Rwandan genocide of recent decades.
Robinson (History/Univ. of Hartford; The Coldest Crucible: Arctic Exploration and American Culture, 2006) explains that the Hamitic hypothesis argues that fair-skinned descendants of Ham long ago invaded Africa, sometimes driving out the black-skinned tribes already there and sometimes ruling over them. While the Bible provided the impetus for the idea, the author shows how the theory evolved over time and how explorers and scientists sought to confirm it. He ranges far and wide in his analysis, recounting Henry Stanley’s sighting of a “white race” in East Africa and the supporting evidence of the linguistic studies of William Jones and the skull studies of Johann Blumenbach. Even architecture played a role, with the discovery of Great Zimbabwe, a huge stone structure that at first Europeans did not believe could have been built by Bantus. Robinson details the shifts in thinking about race over the centuries; the assumptions of Caucasian superiority that fostered colonization, produced literature such as H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mine, influenced the ideas of Carl Jung, and led to the race laws of Nazi Germany; the scientific evidence and moral outrage that cast the Hamitic hypothesis into disrepute; and the persistence of the Hamitic idea in Africa that made it possible for Hutus and Tutsis to see themselves as racially different during the genocide of 1994. While no longer accepted by scientists, the theory still has adherents among fringe groups as a way of justifying their racist beliefs. To show that the idea lives on, Robinson cites the controversy stirred up by the discovery of a 9,500-year-old seemingly Caucasian skeleton, the Kennewick Man, on the banks of the Columbia River in Washington in 1996, a finding that stirred up the race invasion theories of old.
A well-researched, well-documented, and highly readable account.