Egyptian Orientation And Geography

Orientation is important and often neglected. Orientation is defined as one’s position in relation to geographic (true) north, to points on the compass, or to a specific place or object.  Today, our orientation is based on facing the direction we call North which is reflected in how we see world maps and the depictions of the various continents.  The picture below is a typical representation of the world’s continents and thus our orientation.


The picture shows the North at the top, South at the bottom, East to the right, and West to the left.  Most, if not all, maps today will have the same orientation from street maps, weather maps, climate maps, and globes.  The cultural orientation becomes the fixed reference for describing navigation and location.  In other words, all descriptions of navigation and location are given in relationship to the fixed cultural orientation of the society.  The terminology we use for the four cardinal directions: North, South, East, and West, in ancient times, were always related to body parts.  In other words, four body parts were used to describe the four cardinal directions.  An example using  our modern orientation where we face geographical North, we would assign the words head to North, feet to South, left hand to West, and right hand to East.  In Old German, the word for “left” was equivilent to our current North and this indicates the people orientated themselves facing towards our East which is to the rising Sun.  The same is true for Lezgian people which in their language the word “kefer” means “disbeliever” and “north, northerner.”  The Lezgians are muslims and the North of them were inhabited by  non-muslims whom they called disbelievers.  In Hungarian the word for north is észak, which is derived from éjszaka (“night”), since in the Northern Hemisphere the Sun never shines from the north.

The indigenous peoples of Africa are of the first known to use body parts to map out geography and direction.  The entire territory for a given society was laid out in relation to the human body.  Whatever direction the head was found is the direction of orientation for the people.  In Ancient Kemet, the head was placed to our South at the source of the Nile, the feet placed to our North at the Delta, the left hand placed to our East, and the right hand placed to our West.  The head is associated with upper and elevation whereas the feet are associated with lower and decline.  We still do this today by calling the bottom of a hill or mountain, the “Foot of the Mountain.”  The picture below is how the African Continent would be orientated to the ancient Egyptians.  Note it is in reverse or (180 deg) from how Western societies view the world.


South Africa is in ABOVE or in FRONT.  Europe is BELOW or BEHIND.  WEST is on the RIGHT side.  EAST is on the LEFT side.  In Ancient Egypt, the words for RIGHT and WEST are the same which confirms this orientation. Investigate the significance of this.

Egyptian Vocabulary:

  • iAbtt2 iAbtt – EAST, left side, left hand.
  • rsy2 rsy – SOUTH, head, beginning, upper, elevated, up river.
  • imntt2 imntt – WEST, right side, right hand.
  • mHtt2 mHty – NORTH, feet, end, submerged, decline, down river

It’s easy to get confused between Upper and Lower Egypt.  Upper and lower are words used to describe the level of terrain and not the geographical location we are accustom to on maps.  Upper Egypt, although in the South on our maps, was at the beginning or head and at a higher elevation than lower Egypt in the North on our maps.  This caused the Nile River to flow from the higher elevation in the South to the lower elevation in the North.  Therefore on todays maps and orientation, the Nile River appears to flow upwards.  As you can see, with the correct orientation of the continent according to Egyptian orientation, the Nile flows downward toward the North.  This is why the word for North and down river is the same mHtt2 mHtt.  The nile provided the most efficient means of transport.  Vessels travelling north relied on the current while those heading south hoisted sails to take advantage of the prevailing winds, which blows from the north.  As a result the word xdi xdi “to go north” was determined by a boat without sails, while xnti xnti “to go south” depicted a boat with sails.  iAbtt2 iAbtt East/Left is the birthplace of the sun each day and represents the beginning, birth, rebirth.  imntt2 imntt West/Right is the completion, resting, ending of the day or cycle.  The dead are considered “Westerners” as the West represented the completion of one’s life cycle and burial sites were placed in the West.

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