Scherin Barlow Massay

Social Anthropologist – Scherin Barlow Massay

The Olmecs may have belonged to one of the ethnic groups that formed part of the ancient Egyptian nation. From Antiquity, the ancient Egyptians consisted of different family groups, with each group divided into its own sub-national autonomous city-state.

After the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under Pharaoh Narmer (Menes), each city-state formed part of the governmental structure, consequently beginning a 3,000-year Egyptian rule.

Alternatively, they could have belonged to one of the other national groups occupying other parts of Africa, who were members of the armed forces, as Egypt was the world power at that time with a well-trained military force.

With such a vast domain to defend from invaders, it was normal for mercenary soldiers to enlist to defend Egypt’s international territories. The Olmecs may have been soldiers commissioned to explore and trade with new lands.

Evidence exists, that during the reign of Ramses lll, Africans engaged in seafaring activities across the Atlantic Ocean; sailing east, into the North Equatorial Current, they would have reached Mexico’s Gulf Coast.

The third theory is that they could have been from among the people migrating from northern Africa due to the catastrophic changes in the weather. The area that is now the Sahara Desert had once been a fertile area with savannahs and lakes that sustained life.

ramses III

Ramses III. Photo courtesy


However, over time, climatic changes forced people living in the northern areas of Africa to make a mass exodus and move into regions that were more life sustaining. In such a homogeneous environment, it was natural for interrelated national groups to influence each other and spread their ideologies and belief systems. Moreover, ancient Egyptian culture was the dominant culture and this may be the reason why some of the Olmec statues resemble Egyptian representations.

No one is sure about the reasons why the Olmecs migrated to Mesoamerica, but what we know is that they called themselves the Xiu (si); meaning black raced family, and that they were part of the larger Mande cultural group of people that included, Mandinka, Bambara, Soninke, Dyula, and Bozo, but to name a few.

Scripts discovered on some Olmec monuments in Mexico were identical to the ancient and modern Mande scripts used by people from the Mandinka cultural group in West Africa today. When translated, archeologists found that the Olmecs spoke a Manding language.

They also held religious beliefs and practiced astronomical sciences in the same way as those practiced by some cultural groups in Mali and Nigeria today.

The Olmecs were clever mathematicians and astronomers, and they introduced this knowledge to

Mesoamerica. They calculated the year by using a thirteen-month calendar that combined astronomical, climatic and social factors.

The non-Islamic Dogon people of Mali, who are related to the Bozo, use the same system of calculating the year. They acknowledged they got it from the Mande.

The Mande system of notation, which are mathematical signs and symbols used to represent quantities or elements, is based on the numbers 20, 60, and 80 and aspects of the Mande notation system prevails among most West African cultures, who use the moon, seasons and stars for calculating time.

The major star studied by the Mande and the ancient Egyptians, was Sirius. Astronomically, Sirius was the foundation of the Egyptians entire religious system and sometimes identified with Isis their chief goddess.

The Egyptian calendar system also took into consideration the rising of Sirius that occurred just before the inundation of the Nile during the summer.  When the Xi left Africa, they took their cultural beliefs with them, which later became the foundations for other later cultures in Mesoamerica.