THE BORDERING IDENTITY OF A NORTHEAST AFRO-ARABIAN
What are you? Often grappling with my identity, coming from a niche that most Africans and Arabs alike are unfamiliar with, I constantly struggle with defining my identity. Am I African, am I Yemeni, am I neither, am I both? It is offensive that I am forced to define my identity per Western constructions of space. Why does my African identity end at the Red Sea? Why do maps of Africa not include African diasporas? We are confined to recognizable spaces to fit ideologies permeated by Western ways of knowing, of categorizing the particulars of varying cultures. I cannot, therefore, be easily confined to pre-determined conventions of what an area/region should consist of and its perceived cultural characteristics. However, the situation is more complicated than the desire for African inclusion. Ethiopia, like Egypt, often considers itself non-African; the result of perceived elitism imposed via colonial racism and reinforced by Orthodox Christianity. The problem is ancient, when “Ethiopia” was more generally north of its current capital, especially during the time of what preceded and shaped the Aksumite empire. Any place in Africa associated with the word “empire”, per archaeology, is never considered an “African empire”, because Africa doesn’t have empires and therefore Saba and Aksum can’t be African. Western modes of place categorization do not fit into this complicated scheme and only further convolute my identity. The reality is that I am African wherever I am, not where Western borders of ideological space impose themselves. My essay will examine how this complicated history can't be defined per the Western understanding of space-time, as well as how my particular identity can be understood as a case study for demonstrating the limitations of the Western episteme in Northeast Africa/Yemen/South Arabia.
Iman Jamal Nagy is a PhD student at UCLA studying Northeast African Archaeology. She focuses on reintegrating indigenous knowledge systems and perspectives into mainstream heritage studies, bridging cultural connections from Egypt to the Horn of Africa.