EGYPTOLOGY NOTES #34: Those of us in the African school of the study of ciKam (Egypt) look to other African languages to help expand our knowledge of ancient Egyptian religious and cultural concepts that are not explicitly defined in Egyptian texts. One of those obscure concepts is known as the kA “soul” in ancient Egypt. As most of you know who follow my work, the grapheme transliterated as <A> in Egyptological literature, is actually an /l/ sound as in “Larry.” It can also double as a /r/. Thus, “ka” is more than likely not how you pronounce the term. The consonant cluster is /k-l/. By going into the inner African languages, we get a better understanding of the term.

Proto-Afro-Asiatic has *kVrw- “soul, self.” P. Western Chadic is *kurw- 'soul; ghost' (Hausa: kùrwā 'soul; ghost'); Central Chadic: *kir- 'self; will' ( Bura: kir 'the self; the will'). Westermann (1927) reconstructed for Niger-Congo *-kal- “soul, spirit.” This is reflected in the Akan language as -kra “soul.” In ciLuba it would reflect iikala “to be.” In Mangbetu (Nilo-Saharan) we havekudukudu “shadow, soul.”

We therefore better understand the kA (k-l) in Egyptian as being the “will” and the “self” of the person. It is that which compels us “to be” in this reality. What’s interesting is that the “soul” is represented by a pair of “arms” or “hands” in the Egyptian iconography. The word for “hand” in Proto-Western-Sudanic is /*ka/. Proto-Western-Negritic has *ka (kya), *kwan, *kwal, *gwal“hand.” The final –l or –r can be an old plural marker or an article (i.e., the, a). The noun also doubled as a verb in earlier languages. Thus, the same root is used for the “action of the hands.” In Sumerian (a Niger-Congo language), we have kal “strength.” Mangbetu kwakwara “strength”; Mande gberegeregete “strong”; ciLuba bikolè(à) "strong, with force." In Egyptian we have nxt"strong, victorious, obdurate." A variant of the k-l root in Egyptian is given by way of metathesis: rwD (< r-g < g-l) "hard, firm, strong, enduring, permanent, persistent, effective, prosperous, successful." Another variant is qni "be brave, strong, active, capable, valiant, mighty," where the l > n. All of these variants have the "arm" or "hand" as a determinative sign to convey the notion of "strength."

This is an example of paronymy at work. For the ancient mind, the “soul” or “will” is the “power source” from the great POWER SOURCE that allows things “to be.” So now when someone talks about “will-power,” you at least have a historical perspective on how this was articulated in ancient times. To have a "strong will" is to have a strong power source: i.e., a strong "mind." This is why the kA is on top of the head in many depictions.

-Asar Imhotep