dedication and organization

opening words


the program

literature of the lecturers






press releases

1st World Congress on Matriarchal Studies
Luxembourg 2003
Selected Papers


Center for the Study of the Gift Economy

International Academy Hagia

Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum

Dark Mother, Dark Others, and a new World
Case of Sardinia


After publication of  Dark mother.  african origins and godmothers in 2001, I have been  taking students to on-site  exploration of  its themes, and have come to realize the importance of  cultural and political  phenomena on  african migration paths in Europe. I have also been struck by the significance of   return migrations of semites for  understanding  world history. My research  has encompassed Sicily, Sardinia, and Tuscany in Italy, Andalucia in Spain, and the south of France, places where I have found a similar pattern: *african migration paths marked by menhirs and dolmens; *signs (color ochre red and pubic V)  of the  african  dark mother;* stone  images of the dark mother after 25,000 BCE;  * images as  black madonnas  and other dark woman divinities in the common epoch.  *african  healing water rituals,,  *great prehistoric art remembered in modern art, and *early heresies which are remembered in  contemporary transformative cultural and political movements.

This essay, focusing on Sardinia, is part of a book in progress, The future has an ancient heart.  Legacy of african migration paths in  Sicily, Sardinia  and Tuscany in Italy, Andalucia in Spain, and  the south of France.   The book is intended to stimulate others to consider my hypothesis of the significance of african migration paths in other places in the  world.  

My work on the legacy of african migrations to  islands and countries of Europe is based on the consensus of world scientists that *modern humans, homo sapiens sapiens, emerged in  south and central Africa 100,000 BCE.  * L. Luca Cavalli Sforza and other  geneticists of the world have proven in the DNA that  africans, after 50-60,000 BCE migrated to all continents,  taking their beliefs with them.  This research converges with the *work of archeologist Emmanuel Anati  on the rock art of the world and  on the *scholarship of feminist scholars  that major signs of the african dark mother were the color ochre red and the pubic V, pointing to women's generation of life.  My work also converges with the scholarship of   Marija Gimbutas' confirmation of  many  images of women divinities  in Europe,  and of world studies of Heide Goettner-Abendroth on  matriarchy, referring to the  original meaning of the word – mothers in the beginning.   This essay is particularly indebted to Emmanuel Anati's discovery of the archeological site at  Har Karkom, where  africans in 40,000 BCE created  the oldest sanctuary we know at Mt. Sinai,  origin place of the world's dominant religions, a  sanctuary  characterized  by dolmens and  menhirs incised to look like humans.


Geologically, Sardinia is the oldest  part of Italy.  Africans in migration probably  arrived in Sardinia before 50,000 BCE, moving inland from the seacoast about 4300-3000 BCE.  They engaged in the obsidian trade (the black gold of antiquity), and sculpted figurines of  their divinity,  who may be seen today in the national museums of Cagliari and Sassari.    Early on they  developed art depicting the woman deity and  animals such as bulls and rams as sacred.. In Sardinia we visited  some of the 140 collective burial places that are associated with dolmens.  When our study tour visited Pranu Mutteddu we were hushed into silence viewing the rows of sixty menhirs  converging  on underground burial tombs at Goni.  

After african migrations to Sardinia, the other significant migrations were of semites, originally african,  in return migrations.  After 2300 BCE semites (a language group) from Ur in west Asia called "peoples of the sea," or the shardana,  swept  through Europe carrying  images of a nurturant dark mother (offering her breasts), settling in Sardinia.  After 1500 BCE canaanites (called phoenicians by the greeks) from Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon took icons of the dark mother all over the "known world," in a peaceful trading empire  whose base was Carthage in  Africa, and whose  hub was Sardinia.  

Although the dark mother was subsequently subordinated, and whitened by greeks, romans, and the christian church,  the  memory of the african dark mother continued to be  transmitted in the common epoch by subaltern classes not only in images of black madonnas and other dark women divinities of the world, but in other folklore- -  crafts, art, stories, rituals, dance, and song – conveying her values – *justice with nurturance/compassion/healing, *equality of  all her children;*transformation.

In Sardinia in the Barbagia,  oldest and unvanquished  interior of  the island,   the memory of the dark african mother has been kept .in figurines of the dark mother , and in  rituals, notably in dances (the lestru, dillu, passu torrau, ballu thoppu, boche seria, boche notte), and in songs transmitting  lyrics of  poets  as well as improvised lyrics with  non-words that end in "ma,"  the oldest sound in the world.  Music of the Barbagia is very  similar to the rap music of contemporary african/americans .  The typical canto a tenore  of the Barbagia imitates sounds of animals and nature:- - e.g., :sounds of  bellowing of an ox, bleating of a sheep,  whistling and hissing of the wind-- sounds that hark back to  primordial singing of Africa  as well as everywhere africans, and their descendants,  migrated; for example,   in Oceania. (2)

Semitic shardana, "peoples of the sea"

The people who created the thousands of nuraghi, cone shaped structures that have become the  symbol of  Sardinia, have been the subject of a good deal of speculation. A  book recommended to me by sardinian scholars, Lawrence Melis,  Shardana.  I Popoli del Mare, has been helpful  because of its extensive documentation. The people  known as "peoples of the sea", according to Melis,  are the shardana,, who gave Sardinia its name.  The shardana  were semites, whom Melis  identifies as  the lost tribe of Dan,  a semitic tribe who venerated a dark mother.   

Fleeing a three hundred year famine in Ur (Mesopotamia)  the shardana expanded after  2300-2000 BCE into the anatolian peninsula, then into central and northern Europe, leaving clues to their presence in names; e.g., along the Danube (Dan) and the Dnieper (Dn) rivers, into the Baltic and Scandinavia, and  into Ireland ("Danny Boy").  Another group of these semitic shardana  went south to Syria and the Dead Sea, then into Greece, Crete, Sicily, Corsica, and Sardinia (where they settled). and thence, in a reprise of early african migrations ,  to the northern coast of Africa.  

According to Melis, the shardana  arrived in Sardinia 2300 – 2000 BCE,  about the same time they arrived in Tuscany and Latium on the mainland of Italy,as well as on the Balearic islands off Spain, and on Crete  and  Cyprus. For this essay, it is sufficient to note that these semites,  like everyone else,  were african  in origin, and revered a woman divinity. The  woman divinity of the shardana is  glimpsed in bronze age cruciform figurines of a female  and in many statuettes offering her nurturing breasts- -  figurines very similar to those on  other  african migration paths in Europe. 

The "peoples of the sea"/shardana  have been described as violent; but  this is unclear because the 7000 bee-hive  shaped megalithic structures (nuraghi) associated with shardana settlements  have no evidence of weapons.  The shardana are enigmatic;  their warrior shields resemble women's breasts, with nipples.   Icons of shardana warriors feature  four eyes;  Dianne Jenett pointed out to me that  four eyes are characteristic of the  earlier  eye goddess of Tell Brak of  Iraq (ca. 3000 BCE)(3)

The point at hand for  mediterranean, sardinian, sicilian,  italian ,  and world history,  is that the shardana, in Sardinia, an island which archeologists regard as a  museum of the prehistory of Europe, venerated a dark mother, whom Melis calls Mater Mediterranea.  The connection with african beliefs is suggested in that  menhirs and dolmens were central icons of nuragic communities.   Figurines of women in nuragic communities  hold the solar disk, symbol of african veneration of the sun;  hold their breasts in an african  nurturant gesture, and  there is evidence that they engaged in  african water rituals. .   Nuraghi of Sardinia resemble  sanctuaries in Zimbabwe in Africa.   

In Sardinia, the belief in the dark mother and her values appears to be continuous from prehistory to the present.  Ancient caves where early african migrants lived were later called domus de Janus by the romans; today these caves are popularly considered  dwellings  of women  with supernatural powers.  In Sardinia the early christian church at Saccargia was originally megalith in form .   Inside the church  at Saccargia  (rebuilt in the middle ages),we saw  two black madonnas.  

Semitic canaanites

Canaanites in Sardinia (whom the greeks called phoenicians) arrived after the shardana, mixed with them, and shared  the belief in the dark mother that characterizes sardinian history. Sardinia during the presence of the canaanites was the hub of a peaceful  trading  empire  based at Carthage in Africa.  Reaching the Spanish Levant in the west, Cyprus in the east, and  Tuscany and  Sicily in Italy,  the mediterranean network was characterized by a shared belief in the dark mother.(4)

Who were the canaanites once millennia of slurs(5) are cast aside?   Semites, they  came (after the expansion of the shardana) to Sardinia from Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon.,  founding coastal settlements where they enjoyed good relations with the ancient originally african peoples of the interior as well with the semitic shardana.(6) Semitic canaanites offer a dramatic case of how defeated peoples are treated by chroniclers who write history for the winners. Defeated earlier by the israelites, vanquished later by the romans, maligned in judeo/christian scriptures, canaanites have been disparaged ever since by historians who mindlessly repeat spurious libels.(7)   What happened to the canaanite belief in the dark mother after canaanites were vanquished by the israelites?   My research in submerged beliefs suggests that the memory of the dark mother  remained in  suppressed beliefs of  Palestine and Israel, as well as in beliefs of  subaltern classes of Europe  whose genetic and/or cultural inheritance held a memory of  early african migrations and later semitic migrations,   beliefs that are suggested  in the  values associated with  early icons of the dark mother and with the folklore of black madonnas- - *justice with nurturance/healing, *equality, and *transformation..     

Italians, in an 1988 exhibit under the direction of Sabatino Moscati, took the lead in revisiting the canaanites, displaying a stunning collection of sarcophaghi,  jewelry, scarabs, amulets, ivory and bone articles, bronzes, metallic cups,  glassware, ceramics, and many figurines of a nurturant woman divinity offering her breasts .(8) The historic  exhibit and catalog edited by Moscati support my hypothesis that belief in the dark african mother is accompanied by great art.  The exhibit  did not address the  issue of african origins, the shared canaanite ancestry of both palestinians and israeli, and  their shared suppressed belief in the dark mother.

Recent research has uncovered the  pervasive presence of icons of a  woman divinity in  early Syria and Palestine.(9)   The University of Pennsylvania Museum  has produced a postcard book, Facing Antiquity.Canaan and Ancient Israel,  illustrating canaanite artefacts found in Israel- - notably figurines of women  offering  their breasts,  the pubic V, and mother and child figurines.  These artifacts are very like african and canaanite art  found in  Sardinia, Sicily, Spain,  and elsewhere in the ancient canaanite network.  Western historians, perhaps blinkered by the unscientific notion of a white race,(10) try to differentiate characteristics and cultures of west asian canaanites from those of african carthaginians.  For Moscati (and for me) this is an impossible task- - the artefacts are  alike. (11)

Canaanite  Astarte, whose west asian antecedents were Cybele, Inanna, and Anat, easily melded with african Isis and Tanit.  Semites worshiped these icons of the dark mother along with her male consort.. In the case of Isis this  was a trinity of  Isis, her husband Osiris, and their son Horus, a trinity that differs from the father/son/holy ghost of  christian doctrine. It is the african version of the trinity - - mother, father, son- -  that has persisted in vernacular christian beliefs of italians, the french, the irish,  and others,  a popular trinity of  Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.

Semitic influence in Sardinia  dates from  the nuragic (shardana) culture after 2300 BCE followed by canaanites in the millennium before Mary and Jesus. In the common epoch, semitic moors from west Asia and Africa returned to the islands and countries embraced by the Mediterranean. In Dark mother, I discussed the basque  enclave in  Spain  that resisted  aryan incursions; earlier the basque area of  Spain extended  east in Spain and into France.  The basque influence came with the catalans to Sardinia, (in Spain  there is  a  major sanctuary of a black madonna at Montserrat outside Barcelona.),    re-enforcing  earlier beliefs in the african dark mother (Barcelona was founded by  african carthaginians) .  In the 20th century the dark mother's legacy of justice and equality was re-enforced by sardinians Antonio Gramsci and Enrico Berlinguer who brought her values  to  italian, and  world, politics.

Intuitions of D. H. Lawrence on  his trip to Sardinia in 1921 have helped  me trust my own, e.g., the attraction (from prehistory to the present) of men to women which led  not to violent conquest in some cases, e.g., sardinians, , but to imitation, and to the political legacy of the dark mother. At a carnival Lawrence  noted  a man dressed in a woman's peasant costume with  a "ribboned whip" and "frilled drawers."  He came across male sardinians wearing phrygian stocking caps, reminding me that french revolutionaries wore this same cap that remembers devotees of the  anatolian mother divinity. "(12)

In sardinian women he found "something shy and defiant and un-get-at-able," reminding me of my sense of the ancient wisdom and forza of  sardinian and sicilian women when I was researching italian feminists in the 1970s and 80s. (13)Italy, and Sicily and Sardinia in particular, reminded  Lawrence of something old, "so primitive, so pagan, so strangely heathen and half-savage. . . .Man has lived there and brought forth his consciousness there and in some way brought that place to consciousness. . . . Strange and wonderful chords awake in us and vibrate again after many hundreds of years of complete forgetfulness."(14)

The chords, ultimately african,  can still be heard in Sardinia, resonating in  carnival black masks of the mamuthone (whose smiles, after centuries of foreign domination) are contorted into twisted mouths)   and in the carnival ritual that sardinians  share with basques of Spain- - men wearing  black masks and sheep fleeces climbing hill and dale clanging huge bells on their backs.  In Sardinia, as elsewhere,  the veil covering the pagan substratum of  christian festivals  is very thin;   May lst, day of the  mother, was turned by the church into a celebration of sant'Efiso.  Yet in Cagliari on  May lst,   the ancient music of shepherd flutes, the launeddas,  remember the dark mother

Sardinians are at once ancient and look to a better world. They put signs of the ancient civilization of the african dark mother  into their handicrafts,  producing beautiful rugs, tapestries, costumes, stunning jewelry, and arresting shapes of breads and pastas. They paint murals to convey outrage at social injustice while images, rituals, handicrafts, and politics  remember the dark mother and her values:  justice with  nurturance/compassion/healing, equality, and transformation.

Lawrence helps us see these values of the dark mother before patriarchy tried to  allocate different characteristics  to men and women and separated humans from animals. Nurturance, for example.   Lawrence noted a "black-gowned St. Anthony nursing a boy child. . . he looked a sort of male Madonna."  He realized that  sardinians held non-patriarchal views of sexuality. . .  men in close breeches dancing together. . . men  dressed  like  women during carnival,  when scarlet  [color of the dark mother] cloth is everywhere.   He observed that in Sardinia,  as late as 1921,  pigs had to have tickets to travel on a bus, "as if Christian." At the same time, Lawrence helps us understand male anxiety  in patriarchal cultures about women.  . He admired sardinian women in scarlet and rose-pink striding along., yet, the britisher added, "I would not like to tackle one of them."   (15) 

Sardinia helps us understand the influence that Africa held in mediterranean regions, an african influence that lived on in descendants of africans - - in the shardana who created the high civilization of the bronze age in Sardinia, then in the canaanites, who created a high civilization and trading empire "without any of the characteristics of conquest." Until very recently, historians have repeated, and repeated, lurid and untrue tales about canaanites sacrificing infants to the nurturant goddess Tanit. Peaceful traders, canaanites sailed with  their west asian divinity Astarte and african divinities, Isis and Tanit, established entrepots and settlements, yet left other people to their own beliefs, and left them alone to govern themselves in democratic assemblies.

Network rather than empire, canaanites coming out of Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon  reached  Cadiz in Spain in 1110 BCE, Utica in Africa in 110l BCE, and about the same time,  Lixus on the atlantic coast of Morocco. They established their  base at Carthage in Africa. in 811 BCE, the same year they founded Palermo, my ancestral maternal place in Sicily. Later, in 654 BCE, canaanites founded Ibiza off eastern Spain,  island with a treasure of icons and artefacts of the african dark mother. that has become the festive gay capitol of the world. Looking for silver in Spain, tin in Cornwall in Britain, and amber in the Baltic, canaanites are said to have circumnavigated Africa in their journeys taking images, as well as the just and egalitarian values, of the dark mother,  everywhere in the ancient world. 

Although greeks never came to Sardinia, their mother/daughter divinities Demeter and Core reached the island via north Africa.  The romans brought the aryan legacy of hierarchy, violence, and subordination of the dark mother to Sardinia as well as elsewhere. .  Christianity brought a mixed legacy  where the new religion was interpreted differently by dominant and  subordinated classes.  The subaltern culture put its own gloss on christianity  with a  continuing memory of the pagan dark mother manifested in residues of african belief, notably in black madonnas, and in stories and rituals transmitting pagan values of justice with nurturance/compassion/ healing, equality, and transformation   At Monastir today,  sardinians live as primitive christians with  these pagan values.

A random sampling of canaanite artefacts in  museums of Sardinia includes the sign of Tanit at Nora and  many  figurines of women offering their breasts at Sulcis, Monte Sirai, Tharros, Castagnino, and Nora.  Canaanite jewelry celebrated african Isis, as well as  her husband Osiris and their child Horus. Other african themes are evident in a figurine of a woman encircled with serpents; earrings with a falcon as Horus, pendant with eye of Horus, amulet with Horus, lions, ankh at Sulcis, figurine of a woman holding a solar disk to her breast at Monte Sirai, enthroned divinity at Cagliari,  winged sphinx, scarab of Isis enthroned, scarab with seated lions, scarab with  ankh,  many scarabs with Isis and Osiris, amulets of cats, amulets of falcons, eyes of Horus, amulet of a cow nursing a calf, amulet of Sekhmet, winged sphinx,  razor of Isis and Osiris, pitcher whose spouts are  hands offering  breasts (16).

The legacy for Europe of african migrations in Sardinia is vividly seen in feminist precursors Eleonora de'Arborea and Grazia De Ledda . The political heresy that continues to unsettle the sleep of the dominant classes of the world to the present is the communism grounded on sardinian beliefs in the values of the dark mother of  Antonio Gramsci, major marxist theorist, and of Enrico Berlinguer, communist premier of Italy in the 1970s.

Eleonora d'Arborea in the 14th century refused to acknowledge the rule of the aragonese and  united sardinians in resistance to the spanish invaders.  Eleonora's  name, Sa Judikessa, points to the value of justice.  Considered  mother of Sardinia, she  promulgated the Carta du Logu in 1392. Written in the sardinian language, the charter affirmed equal rights and equal legal status of all women and men.      Grazia De Ledda at the age of 15 began to write down  ancient  customs of the Barbagia and won the Nobel Prize in 1926, first woman writer to have done so.

Antonio Gramsci, perhaps the major marxist theorist of our time, was born at Ales in  Sardinia  near an obsidian mountain (ancients associated the  prehistoric obsidian trade with  the dark mother).  Founder of the italian communist party, Gramsci ‘s prison  writings  stress the significance  of  subaltern folk beliefs in justice and equality for the cultural revolution that neessarily precedes, or accompanies, authentic political revolution.   Enrico Berlinguer, italian communist prime minister of the 1970s and l980s, also born in Sardinia at Sassari, offered  a model of uncorrupted communism.  He proposed an "historic compromise" between communism and religion, and "eurocommunism." 

When our study tour viewed  Santa Cristina's well in Sardinia, Trish exclaimed "Totally Tanit!."   The early christian well, remembering african water rituals, is  formed precisely in the shape of  african/semitic woman divinity Tanit of  Carthage.  In the 1970s, in one of those  curious upwellings of ancient beliefs,  the ankh, or figure of Tanit, became the symbol of international feminism. 

1. For an extensive bibliography of this scholarship  see first chapter of  my Dark mother.  African origins and godmothers. (New York, Chicago, Lincoln, and Shanghai, iUniverse, .2001).  

2. A singing group  has brought this ancient form to Europe and the United States.  We heard Tenores de Oniferi at Freight and Salvage Coffee House in Berkeley, California on October 26, 2003.

3. In her christian version, the eye goddess became santa Lucia.  (see chapter 5, dark mother. Loc.Cit.).

4. See Salvatore Moscati, Italia Punica.   Con la collaborazione di Sandro Filippo Bondi (Milano, Rusconi,  1995).

5. The slurs, or libels, of the canaanites, are similar to those cast historically on the jews until these were dispersed in the 20th century, after the holocaust and world war two.

6. See  Sabatino Moscati, Il Tramonto di Cartagine.Scoperte archeologiche in Sardegna e nell'areamediterranea (Torino, Societa' Internazionale, 1993).  .

7. The major libel, that canaanites sacrificed infants to their woman divinity, Tanit, has been refuted by contemporary archeologists. When I visited a tophet in Mozia, it was an infant cemetery alongside an adult burial ground.  See Sabatino Moscati, Italia Punica. Loc. Cit., for revised  view of tophets, see p. 19.

8. See I Fenici.  Direzione scientifica di Sabatino Moscati, catalog of the 1988 exhibit at Venice.

9. Ebla to Damascus..  Art and Archeology of Ancient Syria, ed., Harvey Weiss  (Seattle and London, Smithsonian Institution in association with University of Washington Press, 1985)

10. See works of L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza, who,  with other world  geneticists, documented in the DNA that we are one human race; that skin color differences are due to climate.  See Dark mother, Loc. Cit. for a discussion of this scholarship.

11. I Fenici , Loc. Cit.,  has ca. 1200 photographs of canaanite artefacts from  Spain, Sardinia, Sicily, Cyprus, and Carthage.

12.   Ibidem. See also  p. 63.

13. See Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum, Liberazione della donna. Feminism in Italy (Wesleyan University Press, 1986, American Book Award of the Before Columbus Foundation ,1987, paperback 1988).

14. Lawrence, Sea and Sardinia (Penguin Books, 1997, Introduction, p. xix., pp 116-7.

15. Ibid., p 130, pp. 144-5.

16. See I Fenici, Loc. Cit.