I’m pretty sure the idea that the Egyptians called themselves “the Blacks” and their country “the land of the Blacks” originates with scholar Cheikh Anta Diop’s challenging paper “The Origins of Ancient Egypt”. He wrote, “The Egyptians had only one term* to designate themselves: [see hieroglyphs above] = the negroes (literally).” Egyptologists counter that the term Professor Diop translated as “negroes” - that is, “Black people” - should actually be translated “people of the Black (Land)”.
I’ve got two questions about this. Firstly: did Professor Diop himself continue to put forward the argument that the Egyptians called themselves “the Black people”? I’ve just been searching through his books on Google Books, and I can’t find either “kemet” or “kmt”.
Secondly - first, some background. In “The Origins of Ancient Egypt” Prof. Diop says that kmt meant “the whole people of Pharaonic Egypt as a black people”. According to conventional Egyptology, kmt refers not to the people, but to the country**: “black (land)”, began as a name for the flat, cultivated Nile valley, referring to the dark fertile silt deposited by the river, by contrast with dšrt, “red (land)”, the hilly deserts to the east and west. kmt later became a name for the whole of Egypt, and dšrt for the countries to the east and west (the “Asiatics” and “Libyans” respectively.)
kmt, black, and dšrt, red, are often paired together, in expressions such as “overseer of the black place, overseer of every red place”, “chieftain of the black places and the red places”, and (one of Ptolemy II’s titles) “King of the Black Land and the Red Land”.
OK, here’s my question: if these conventional translations are wrong, and the hieroglyphs should be read (for example) “overseer of the black people, overseer of the red people”, then who are the red people? Libyans and Asiatics aren’t portrayed as red in Egyptian art***. Or if the colour red is only symbolic, then why isn’t the colour black? It’s odd that the two colours would be paired together like this, but have totally different meanings.
I mean these questions seriously - I’ll be grateful for any pointers to the answers!
* That isn’t quite correct; with the self-centredness of many languages, they also called themselves “the people" (or just "people”) and “the people of the Two Lands”, and their country “The Two Lands” and “The Beloved Land”.
** kmt is definitely used as a place name (“Egypt”), rather than as a collective noun (“Egyptians), at least sometimes - there are several examples in the tale of Sinuhe which use the “place name” determinative.
*** For that matter, in Ancient Egyptian art, only Nubians are portrayed as black - with some exceptions, Egyptian men and gods are coloured a reddish-brown, and women and goddesses are yellow.
(ETA: Terence DuQuesne points out in Black and Gold God that the men-darker women-lighter thing only starts around Dynasty V, and isn’t followed during the Amarna period, which shows that it’s an artistic convention rather than a representation of reality.)