The Hamitic Hypothesis and how European theologians used the Bible to justify enslavement of Africans

8 min readNov 3, 2023

Captain John Hanning Speke was born on 4th May 1827 in Devon, England. He was enlisted into the British army at 17 years old, and posted to British India. He became a lieutenant in 1850 and a captain in 1852. He became an explorer during his leave and made three exploratory expeditions to Africa. He is mostly known for his search for the source of the Nile and was the first European to reach Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa.

But I am not here to talk about his achievements. I am here to talk about something that white people have been doing since the beginning of time. Using religious text to justify atrocities against other populations around the world.

The origin of the term “Hamites”

Captain John Hanning Speke made the Hamitic hypothesis in 1863.

“Hamites” was a term borrowed from the Book of Genesis in the Bible, where it was used to describe the descendants of Ham. Ham was one of the sons of Noah.

Genesis 10:1 (ESV)— “These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham and Japheth.”

So, the term, “Hamitic” came from Ham, the son of Noah. The Hamitic hypothesis/Hamitic theory was based on the misinterpretation of Genesis 9:20–25. We, as a society are no strangers to the misinterpretation of Biblical text for propaganda. People do it all the time.

The misinterpretation gave birth to “The Curse of Ham”, which was used by Western and Islamic traders and slave owners to justify the enslavement of Africans.

Genesis 9:20–25 (ESV) — “Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. he drank the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent.

And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside.

Then Shem and Japheth tool a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father.

Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. when Noah awoke from his his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.’”

The premise of the story was essentially, Ham dishonoured his father and the result led to Noah cursing Ham’s youngest son, Canaan, thus Canaan being the receiver of the curse. Canaan’s offspring would be the “servant of servants” to Ham’s other sons.

Genesis 10:6 — “ The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put and Canaan.”

But, how do this relate back to the Hamitic theory? I’m getting there.

During the middle ages, Jews and Christians considered Ham to be the ancestors of ALL AFRICANS! What a shock (!). Noah’s curse on Canaan in Genesis, began to be interpreted by theologians as having a visible racial characteristics in all of Ham’s offspring. Guess what the characteristic was? Black skin. *pretends to be shocked*.

In a passage, in the 6th century Babylonian Talmud (which is the central of Rabbinic Judaism and primary source of Jewish Religious Law and Jewish theology until the advent of modernity), it says that Ham and his descendants were cursed with black skin. Modern scholars then interpreted this an a etiological myth for skin colour.

The Middle Ages are from 5th century CE to around the 13th/14th/15th century depending on the region.

Up to this point, All Africans were seen as inferior. ALL Africans. Remember what I said.

Moving the goalpost

After the 17th and 18th centuries, Western scholars no longer wanted to use the Bible’s account of early history to create their theories. They started to create their theories without using religion. But, these theories were still being used to justify the enslavement of Africans.

When Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, Western views on Africans started to change. This was because the achievements of Egypt began to garner attention. Western theologians thought that their achievements doesn’t aligned with the theory of Africans being inferior or “cursed”.

After the Napoleon invasion of Egypt, Egyptians were no longer seen as NEGROES. This separated Egyptians from the “inferior race”.

In fact, authors like W.G. Browne, the English traveller bastard who wrote “Travels in Africa Egypt and Syria” in 1799.

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PAUSEEEEEEE!!!!! As I am typing this, no lie, I just noticed the title of the book. READ THE TITLE! Man said Africa, EGYPT, Syria…

Scholars separated Egypt from Africa completely. Because Egyptians were no longer seen as what???? BLACK! My mind is blown.

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Anyways, W.G. Browne laid the groundwork for the new Hamitic myth, that emerged later on, insisting that Egyptians were actually white.


Samuel George Morton, one of the OGs of scientific racism, argued against monogenism and proposed that, races were too broad to have stemmed from one ancestor and that there were actually separate racial origins. And this was all through the study of human skulls. In his book in 1844, “Crania Aegyptiaca”, he concluded that ancient Egyptians were racially related to Europeans. His findings established the foundation for the American school of Anthropology and influences parts of polygenism (whole other conversation cos I would fully go down another rabbit hole).

As a result, some 19th century theologians emphasized that ACTUALLY, the Curse of Ham was only restricted to Canaan, whilst Ham’s youngest son, Egypt (also known as Mizraim) was not cursed.

The Hamitic Race and Race theory

At the start of the 19th century, the “Hamitic” race were seen as a sub-group of the Caucasian race, alongside the Aryan race and the Semitic race. This meant that non-semitic populations were native to North Africa and the Horn of Africa, including Ancient Egyptians.

By the mid 19th century, “Hamitic” developed a new meaning. Now there was discernment between the “inferior” Negroid populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and the Hamitic race. The term “Hamitic”, was applied to Berber, Cushitic, and Egyptian branches of the Afroasiatic family.

So, “Hamite” was used to describe people from the Northern and Horn of Africa. It was developed by Europeans in support of colonialism and slavery.

According to Hamitic theory, the Hamites were more advanced than the Negroid race populations in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Hamitic theory stated that all the significant achievements in African history were the work of the Hamites.


Not going to get into it too much, but, in 1901 Giuseppe Sergi wrote a book called “The Mediterranean Race”, that suggested many things. The main point was that Mediterranean people had originated from the Hamites. Anyway, Sergi set the foundation for later writers like Carleton Coon (CTFU) C.G. Seligman, who I will probably mention later.

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Carleton Coon is a crazy name.

Also, as I am writing this right now, I just noticed something about the word Mediterranean.

Medi — like middle as in, in the middle of European and Africa

terran — earth/land as in, terrain.

I don’t know how I didn’t make that connection before.

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Sergi divided the Hamites into two subgroups: the Western Hamites/Northern Hamites, and the Eastern Hamites/Ethiopids.

Western — Berbers of the Mediterranean, Atlantic and North Africa in general.

Eastern — Ancient and Modern Egyptians, and East Africa in general.

Coon (cryingggg) said that typical Hamitic physical traits included narrow facial features. light brown to dark brown skin, wavy/curly or straight hair, thick to thin lips and a certain range of skull type.

How does this tie back in with John Hanning Speke?

The colonial ideology of a racial hierarchy, first introduced by European educators and administrators popularised the Hamitic hypothesis in the Great Lakes region, especially in those regions under Belgian control.

The idea of a racial hierarchy that European scholars popularised the Hamitic hypothesis in regions of Congo under Belgian control and also in the Great Lakes region. When Speke visited Rwanda during his search of the source of the Nile, he gave birth to the hypothesis.

In the African Great Lakes region, Europeans pushed the idea that, the founders of the Tutsi tribe were “white” migrants from North Africa who lost their original language and culture as they lived amongst the local Bantus (LOST. YOUR. DAMN. MIND.).

The father of the Hamite hypothesis, basically said that the Tutsi people were descendants of the biblical figure Ham. The Tutsi people had lighter skin and more Hamitic features than the Bantu Hutu people over whom they ruled. All Rwandans or Tutsi people, imposed their “alien” rule over Hutu “peasants”.

Speke was essentially saying that the Tutsi people were superior to the Hutu people. Bare in mind that both groups were Bantu-speaking, he still said that the Hutu were inferior, because they didn’t have the narrow noses (GTFO).

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I have yet to complete my reading for the Banyamulenge tribe, Rwandan genocide and the history between Congo and Rwanda, but that is how I started reading about the origin of the theory in the first place.

The theory played a part in the Rwandan genocide, which turned some of the Tutsi tribe against the Hutu people. I won’t get too much into that, as it is a whole other conversation.

The expansion of the Hamitic theory

Later on, another racist called C.G. Seligman published a book called “The Races of Africa” in 1930 (deep that this is modern times). In his book, he argued that the Negro race was “static” and “agricultural” and that the “pastoral Hamitic” had introduced most of the advanced features found in central African cultures, such as metal work, irrigation and complex social structures. (LOST.HIS. DAMN MIND.)

He received critic for this.

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I feel like people think that racism is so far back in time, and they need to stop teaching it in school like it is.

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Seligman received a lot of critic, but decided to stand ten toes down and kept his thesis UNCHANGED in the new versions of his book into the 1960s (which is insane btw, like birth of my grandparents level of insane).

Shortly after, the concept of a Hamite racial and linguistic entity was heavily criticised. Then in 1974 (people’s parents have been born by now good Lord), someone called Christopher Ehret, was writing about the African Great Lakes region.

He described the hypothesis as basically everything that was deemed as “un-primitive”, “sophisticated” or even more elaborate in East Africa, was because of the Hamites that came. He said they were immigrants from the North Africa who had Caucasoid physical ancestry.

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That is as far as the Hamitic theory runs to my knowledge. But I hope you learned something, because I definitely did.

This was basically me paraphrasing from the sources I read and I decided the type it up along with my thoughts. I did not reference this properly, as I am free from the shackles of university, so I don’t care to write that formally. It is purely for education purposes.

Hopefully, people can see that mankind is definitely NOT learning from history. These ideas are very much still floating around, they are just phrased differently.

All the sources are listed at the bottom. I just picked different parts from each one, but feel free to read all of the sources I used.


The Bible ESV

Expressive violence and the slow genocide of the Banyamulenge of South Kivu — Rukumbuzi Delphin Ntanyoma, Helen Hintjens, 2022 (

Hamitic — Simple English Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia