My ancestor Narmer, the first Pharaoh of Egypt


While doing some research on my ancestors last month, I made the surprising discovery that I am the direct descendent of Narmer, who was the first Pharaoh of Egypt and lived around 3,100 BCE. Narmer (thought by some to be the same person as Menes) was not your run-of-the-mill pharaoh. He is a bona fide Pharaoh Hall of Famer, credited with unifying the land that became Egypt and founding the very first dynasty. Of course, given the poor nature of record keeping back in those days one can never be absolutely certain of such things, but I am 80 percent certain that he is my direct ancestor.

How do I know this? I did not do an actual genealogy chart of my ancestors. It is a curious thing but people in Sri Lanka are nowhere near as enthusiastic about tracing their ancestral roots as the people in the US. I know who my grandparents are and I know some of their siblings but that is about it. I think that may be true for most Sri Lankans. I do not recall ever having discussions with anyone in Sri Lanka where people talked about ancestors farther back than three or four generations. It was not a topic of much interest.

Contrast this with America where people are fascinated with their ancestry and go to great lengths to trace back as far as they can, even hundreds of years. It is not unusual to have a conversation in America and for people to spontaneously raise the topic of where their ancestors came from and how far back they have tracked them. And people here are very excited when they find someone in their past who is famous (or even infamous) or had a role in some major historical event or is even just mentioned in some historical document.

Since thinking about my ancestors last month, I have been pondering why there is such a marked difference in interest in the two countries and have come up with some hypotheses, although I have no idea if these explanations are valid.

One possible explanation is that tracing one’s ancestors in Sri Lanka is likely to be a fairly boring exercise with little expectation of anything exciting turning up. After all, it is a small island nation that has a recorded history of about 3,000 years. I know the village where my paternal grandfather, for example, was born and raised. If you trace back farther you will likely arrive at another person in that same village or a neighboring village. If you go back yet further, it will probably be another person in that same village or region, and so on for generation after generation. The likelihood of finding something really surprising or interesting is small. Pretty boring stuff, hardly worth putting a lot of effort into.

In the US, it is quite different. As one goes back in time, one will fairly soon reach ancestors who came from another continent or came over with the early settlers or were members of a Native American tribe. All of these are sufficiently novel and interesting facts that may make worthwhile the hard work necessary in finding one’s roots.

Another factor is the quality of the recordkeeping as you go back in time. The structure of American and European societies was such that maintaining records was desirable. The fairly early adoption of a mercantilist society, capitalism, and private property ownership meant that you had to know who owned what and, most importantly, who inherited the property when someone died. This required that careful records of births and death be kept. This record keeping was also facilitated by church records. Since churches were institutions that also performed civil functions and married people, baptized their children, and buried them when they died, church records are rich sources of genealogical information.

Countries like Sri Lanka remained feudal until later and in many such societies land was either owned by the local feudal lord or held in common by the villagers, so questions of property inheritance were not major issues. Furthermore, Buddhist and Hindu religions (which are the main religions in Sri Lanka) are much less hierarchical in organizational structure than Christianity, and I believe their clergy do not have the same dual civil/religious role that Christian clergy have when it comes to marriages. So Buddhist and Hindu temples are not repositories of marriage, birth, and death records the way that Christian churches are.

A comprehensive mercantilist and capitalist economy came much later in Sri Lanka than in (say) Europe so one is likely to run up against a genealogical blank wall much sooner there, making the search for one’s ancestors a much more frustrating task. Coupled with the fact that the long history and relatively little migratory behavior, and it is easy to see why tracking one’s ancestors is not a particularly popular endeavor.

Even with good record keeping, tracing one’s ancestors is a time-consuming task, requiring that one spend enormous amounts of time and effort in libraries and other archival institutions, poring over old records, and following many false trails.

In tracing my own ancestors, I did not do any of that laborious detective work. So how is it that by merely sitting lazily at my desk in the US in front of a computer, I could state that I am 80% confident that I, a person of Sri Lankan origin, am in a direct line from the very first pharaoh of Egypt?

That’s the story for the next posting.

POST SCRIPT: Russell’s teapot cartoon

Here is another cartoon from the creator of the blog Russell’s Teapot. His cartoons are also a weekly feature on MachinesLikeUs.

russellteapot2.jpg

Comments

  1. says

    Speaking of great lengths, I had a great-great-great uncle who put together a family history for the Adams side of my family. While most of it made sense, he included some lists at the end that went back further than the bulk of the book (presumably to include more famous historical figures and pad his ego). The earliest name on the list is Woden (otherwise known as Odin).

    Even if I were not an atheist, I would find it darn hard to believe he could have found documentation that would trace our ancestry back to a Norse God!

    Aside from trying to show kinship to important people, I think many Americans are interested in genealogy as a way of finding cultural connections. While we may identify as Americans societally, many of us lack the cultural traditions ranging from foods to music, dance and traditions that might be found in countries with more historically homogenous populations.

    Or getting back to earlier discussions, perhaps we covet membership in additional tribes.

  2. says

    I have great connections to this example!
    perhaps i have examples of this.
    this is very important imformation.
    and i wonder who is the first pharoh.
    that must be thousands of years!!

  3. blake says

    this is not true the first pharoah ever was actually named pharoah which means great house. he lived in around 1600 bc and was a direct descendent of ham and egyptus.

  4. says

    Great read! WOW, imagine being related to a Pharaoh of Egypt. Could you please share some of the sources you used to track this down? I’m also of Asian descent (Indonesia), but I have not been too successful to track down any of my ancestry since my grand parents arrived to the US in the 50’s.

  5. says

    That’s pretty cool you made that connection. It’s been said that a good portion (maybe even the majority) of people with European ancestry descend from Charlemagne, and Charlemagne really isn’t that far back in history comparatively. Way to go making the discovery back to the Pharaohs!

  6. says

    King Narmer is thought to have reigned c. 3150 BCE as first king of the 1st dynasty (and/or last king of the 0 dynasty) of a unified ancient Egypt. The rebus of his name as shown on his palette and on other inscriptions is composed of a chisel, thought to be read mr, above a catfish, thought to be read as n’r. King Narmer, or Catfish as he could also be called, appears thus on seal impressions from the 1st Dynasty tombs of King Den (tomb) and King Ka (Tomb) at Abydos (where we believe he may have himself built a tomb), and also at Tell Ibrahmin Awad. Narmer’s name and that of his possible predecessor Scorpion have also been found on pottery vessels from the site of Minshat Abu Omar in the eastern Delta. The name of Narmer also occurs in Hierakonpolis on objects in addition to the Palette and Macehead such as potsherds etc.

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