The scales of Maat.

Author:Wambu, Onyekachi

Why do we condemn the effects of unethical behaviour while finding excuses for our own lack of ethics? Ancient Egypt had the answer.

The seasonal celebration of the birth of an ethical revolutionary (Jesus Christ) presents the perfect opportunity to reflect on the forces that shape African ethical behaviour and the link between this behaviour and the challenges we face as a continent.

We often adopt strange ethical positions but are then baffled by the outcomes. For instance, we are reluctant to abide by neutral rules that reward meritocracy, or reflect the legitimacy of the majority opinion in our countries, but are then frustrated by subsequent ethnic and religious politics, and rigging of the systems. We refuse to accept neutral arbitration systems to resolve conflicts, but lament the cost of endless wars. We openly steal and offshore our common patrimony and resources, but bemoan widespread corruption, and the low investment in our currencies or future.

Sam Amadi, the distinguished lawyer and ethics commentator, notes that at root our issue is really a deep-seated belief in falsehood, around which, according to a colleague, Josephine Osikena, we construct more self-deceptions.

Obviously it is more complicated than this, but is worth unpicking the issue of lies and self-deception further by examining the conflicting ideas we carry around that shape our ethical behaviour--ideas that arose in ancient Egypt, when a state first attempted to produce upstanding citizens.

The virtuous person in Pharonic Egypt was one who observed the principles overseen by Maat, the female deity and symbol of truth and justice. Maat is recognisable by the feather in her headdress.

42 negative confessions

Her most important function is the role she plays when individuals, at death, account for their behaviour in the Hall of Judgement. Maat's scales of truth and justice weigh the individual's heart against her feather of justice while the individual begins declaiming the 42 Negatives Confessions, so-called because the person being judged has to assert their innocence of 42 crimes such as 'I have not killed', 'I have not stolen', etc in front of Osiris, guardian of the ancestral realm, the 42 Assessors of Maat.

The more blameless the individual, the lighter their hearts, representing a perfect balance with the feather on the judgement scales.

No outside agencies are involved, just the individual and their conscience, giving a truthful account of their life as they...

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