The Temehu Tribes of Ancient Libya

Ancient Libyans & Nubians

Scene from the tomb of Seti I, Dynasty XIX.

Author: Nesmenser
Publisher: https://www.temehu.com

The following notes, prepared by www.temehu.com, may serve as a short introduction to the Libyan Berber Temehu tribes. For further information about the ancient Libyan Temehu (Temeh'w) and Tehenu people the reader can refer to the rare work of Oric Bates (The Eastern Libyans, London, 1914). The Ancient Egyptians called the land and the people west of the Nile Valley the Tehenu, whom appear to have been a numerous group, as attested by Egyptian references, such as "the countries of the Tehenu" and "the chiefs of the Tehenu". But since the Temehu were also referred to as "the Westerners", those who inhabited the area immediately west of the Nile, it becomes difficult to separate between the two Berber groups. Hence, according to Oric Bates, the ancient Egyptians often did not always discriminate between the Temehu (Tmh') and the Tehenu (Th'n).

Those writers who claimed that the Temehu tribes were comprised of two groups – the Tehenu in the north and the Nehesu in the south –  may have been confused too, since according to the Egyptians themselves the Nehesu are a distinctive group, and in all probability what they meant to say was that the Libyans comprised two groups: the Tehenu in the north and the Temehu tribes in the south, and thus the Tehenu were rightly identified with Lower Egypt, and the Temehu with Middle-Nubia. This makes sound sense when one refers to the ancient Egyptian's classification of humankind:

The Egyptians divided the human race into four classes, namely the Egyptians, the A’mu (Semites), the Neh’esu (Nubians) and the Temeh’u (Temehu) in the country Tmh’ (Libyans). The Neh'esu refers to all Africans bordering Egypt from the south, like the Ethiopians; the Temehu covers all Africans bordering Egypt from the west; and the A'mu are obviously the Semites bordering Egypt from the east (of the Middle East), like the Akkadians and the Phoenicians, whom originally were Saharan groups split from the Afro-Asiatic family around the 5th millennium BC.

Of course, modern genetic, anthropological and linguistic discoveries conclusively relate both the Egyptians and the Semites (and all the ancient Mediterranean peoples) to the Sahara, and therefore this kind of genealogy is politically motivated and serves no purpose to our present enquiry, except that it clearly shows the Nehesu as a separate group from the Temehu, and that the Temehu designates the whole of the Libyan peoples west of the Nile – that is all the Imazighen west of the Nile including the Tehenu, the Ribu, the Nasamons, the Garamantes, etc.

This is also apparent from the extent of the Temehu's territories, which appear to have been comprised of various communities and tribes, occupying much of the Sudan and possibly all the way to Fezzan; and hence several scholars, starting from Oric Bates, have openly discussed the possibility of the Temehu being the distant ancestors of the present day Tuareg tribes of the great Sahara Desert, "The Speakers of Tamaheqt", or *Temehaght > Temejeght > Temezeght > Tamazight, the language of the entire Berber population of North Africa, currently spanning 10 countries, from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean and from the Mediterranean Sea to Lake Chad.

Few years after the publication of Bates' unique book, 'The Times' (20 March 1928) published a study drawing similarities between the Temehu and the images of prehistoric drawings found in the Air Mountain in the southern Sahara desert. This begs the simple question: if the Temehu were recent sea-people invaders of Egypt (or of Libya, as it was known then), then how come the ancient Egyptians considered them the natives of both Egypt and Libya? Why did they include them in their genealogy of humankind long before the arrival of the sea-people?

Surely the Egyptians knew enough about their neighbours as not to confuse natives with foreign pirates and include the latter in their classification of the human race! The Egyptian classification of the human race serves no scientific purpose other than show the Temehu as a massive group inhabiting the whole of Libya (that is the whole of Africa west of Egypt), and thus this by itself is more than enough to put all other theories concerning the European origin of the Temehu tribes out of their 'miseries'. In speaking of the Biblical genealogy, the Biblical HAM (the African cursed son of Noah – see Genesis for more on this), appears to be a metatheses of the older TMH; and hence in the Bible the Libyans appeared as the Lubim, or the Lebahim of the Old Testament, the son of Mizraim, and thus back to Ta-Mazight, as Bates was the first to mention.

It is apparent here that both the Egyptians and their later students must have based their written traditions on earlier and much older oral lore and as such the original classification myth must have been much older than the written version of the later Pharaohs. This also means that "internet-chat experts", who confuse the recent sea-people with the Libyan Tehenu and/or Temehu and subsequently made the Temehu a foreign blond group, are committing a grave mistake, in the same way their predecessors related the ancient Egyptians to Sumeria or Mars!  We have plenty of evidence, most of which is prehistoric, to the fact that these Berber groups were natives to the area since pre-dynastic times. And to ignore this monumental evidence, or, like other scholars had pointed out, to make it intentionally obscure, serves no purpose other than illustrate Amen-like motives!

temehu by the Nile

The land of the Temehu tribe in ancient Libya extends all the way to the Nile.
According to Herodotus Libya began west of the Nile.


The Delta was called Tameh'et, one interpretation of which is 'the lotus land', just as pictured by its hieroglyph of three lotus flowers rising from a circle (the sign for 'city'). In relation to Meh', a mention must be made of the Seven Wise Ones of the goddess Meh'-urt, who, in the beginning of time, came from water at the feet of Nu or Nun, and who, in very early times, resided over the “weighing of words” in the Hall of Meh'-urt and thus rightly identified with Libyan Maat and Neith. This simple fact was known to many scholars and Egyptologists, like Sir Alan Gardiner who has noted that the name of the Libyan tribe Temeh'w means “Lower Egypt” as well as the “Delta”, whence mh's “the crown of Lower Egypt”. The name was also mentioned as Henet-Temehu, the princess daughter of Thenet-Hep, the wife of  Ahmose I, which further illustrates the Libyan element in the Egyptian dynasties, as we shall see below.

The ancient Egyptian Timhy (Tymhy) Stone of Wawat, found in one of the Egyptian lists of royal gifts, may indicate that the stones were of a particular type purveyed to the Egyptian by the Temehu. G. W. Murray ('The Road to Chephren's Quarries') relates that the Temehu Libyans were employed in the labour gangs at the quarries; while other sources affirmed that the Temehu were famous for being skilled stone workers and that the monuments built of polygonal masonry in Cyrenaica were the work of the Temehu people whom often referred to as “the Westerners” ('those who dwell west of the Nile').

The Libyan struggle to free the taken land of Neith is pre-dynastic in nature, and let us make no mistake that their recent pact with the maritime bandits, who came to plunder Egypt as others had done before and after, was no more than another tactic in their long war against the armies of the conquering Pharaohs. There was never such thing as Libyan Invasion (or invasions); they only appear so if they were mentioned in isolation, by the enemy, of course.

To be fairer to the truth, from the extant preserved material one can safely ascertain the Pharaohs to have been the invaders of the region, who, as told by their own history, forcibly unified Libyan Lower Egypt and Nubian Upper Egypt into what is known as Egypt: the House of [Libyan] Ptah. This was the subject of several studies including the one presented at The Symposium On "Libya Antiqua" , held in Paris between the 16th and the 18th of January 1984, and titled: The Tehenu In The Egyptian Records. The paper, written by A.H.S. El-Mosallamy and prepared at the request of the Unesco, told us nothing we do not already know, but nonetheless it was a recent summary of the basic facts put forward in the last century by Petrie, Breasted, Bates, Galassi, Maspero, Borchardt and many others whom history had practically forgotten, and was largely drawn from the ancient records preserved by Eratosthenes, Manetho, Plutarch, Plato, Herodotus, Diodorus and the ancient Egyptian records, as those of the pyramid papyri of Berber Unas (the god who swallowed all the gods).

The pre-dynastic existence of the Temehu and the Tehenu is ascertained from several facts, the most important of which is the Palermo Stone, the oldest document in the world, which preserves a long list of pre-Dynastic Libyan kings & queens of Lower Egypt before its invasion by the Pharaohs. The Delta city of Sais was the centre of the worship of the Libyan Goddess Neith, and most scholars generally agree that the inhabitants of Sais were mostly of Libyan Berber origin. Other Libyan Delta cults included those of the Libyan Cat-Goddess Bast at Bubastis, and Osiris & Isis at Buziris, who went on to dominate the Egyptian and Roman pantheons, and even survive to the present day in Europe as the secret cults of Isis & Osiris. It is therefore generally concluded that the Berber Tehenu tribes were the natives of the Egyptian Delta long before the menace of Menes, who forcibly unified Egypt and invaded the Tehenu territories in the north and that of the Temehu and Nubian's in the south about 3100 BC (or 3400 BC according to other sources).

Hence Neith's Temple in the Delta (at Sais) bore the name of "House of the king of Lower Egypt", and the Egyptian "uraeus" serpent was deduced, from a scene of four Libyans in Sahure's temple at Abusir, to have been descended from an early Libyan king of the Delta. In addition to the Delta, the Tehenu of Lower Egypt were also the inhabitant of the Fayyum and the other oases of the region. In fact, these Berber oases were not invaded by the Pharaohs until the time of the New Empire, and were not totally colonised by the Pharaohs until the time of Ramses III, against whom the Libyans became known for their attacks on Egypt. Breasted asserts that these oases dwellers, from which the Egyptians of Hatshepsut extracted much tribute, were none other than the Libyan Tehenu of the Delta. The Temehu's territories however began immediately south of the Tehenu's and extended all the way down to Middle Nubia – an area where Oric Bates, during his short life, conducted an extensive study of its cemeteries and came to conclude that the Nubians and the Libyans were more related than previously thought, and thus the Temehu Berbers were also known to archaeologists as "the C-Group of Nubia". Even today, the Arabs of modern Egypt call the Nubians "Barabera".

Then we have the Egyptian pre-dynastic records such as the inscriptions found in Neith's temples, showing the usual Libyan signs and Neith's tattoos as well as the names of queens and princesses, which usually contained the element Net or Nit; Narmer's ivory cylinder commemorating his so called victory over the Libyans; the pre-dynastic Kerki knife bearing similar representations of pre-dynastic Libyans as those of the later Egyptians; and, of course, the name " Tehenu " itself, found on King Scorpion's statue (ca. 3300 BC), from which respected Egyptologists convincingly deduced that the struggle between the ancient Libyans and the Egyptians goes back to pre-dynastic times, as pointed out by Breasted (1906), and also to the beginning of the Northern Kingdom of the Delta when the invading Pharaohs were forcibly trying to unify the two kingdoms: the northern Libyan Lower Egypt and the southern Nubian Upper Egypt. This means that if the wars of the Tehenu-Temehu and the Egyptians were pre-dynastic, then the existence of the Tehenu and the Temehu people in Egypt surely goes farther back in time.

This conclusion is also supported, in addition to the above Egyptian genealogy, by the fact that several scholars generally agree that the Egyptians always referred to the Tehenu and the Temehu with titles indicating their native origin and not as foreigners; and by the fact that the Egyptians were indeed very careful not to adopt any foreign gods, as pointed out by most Egyptologists, and as such their adoption of the Libyan Neith, Amon, Bast, Sekhmet, Set and many others is a strong indicator that they did not consider the Libyans as "foreigners".

For example, "The Libyan Palette" (also known as "The Tehenu Palette"), which preserves samples of one of the earliest written documents in known history, was dated back to the Naqada III period, else known as the Proto-dynastic Period of Egypt (c. 3200 to 3000 BC). The established Libyan royal line of kings and queens in the Delta during and after the invasions of Menes, and the disputed royal lines of the Palermo Stone, are also good examples of this.

From the first dynasty onwards the Libyans continued their attempts to reclaim Lower Egypt. During the start of the dynastic period the name Tehenu was found inscribed on the "Narmar Palette" and also reappeared during the second and the third dynasties (2778- 2723 BC), when, according to Manetho, the Libyans continued the struggle against the invading Pharaohs and particularly against Nefer-Ka-Re.

Then during the fourth dynasty the Pharaoh Snefru reportedly took 11,000 Libyans as prisoners of war. In fact the wars were so rife during this early period that they were brought to a temporary lull during the Old Kingdom by king Khufu (Greek Cheops), the second king of the 4th Dynasty (ca. 2613-2494 BC) and the builder of the great pyramid of Giza, by marrying a Libyan princess in order to bring peace to the region so that he could concentrate on his monumental work.

"Bringing peace to the region", "during the building of the great pyramid of Giza", "so that he can concentrate on his work" is not a sign of 'menace' but a powerful indicator of the long conflict between the Libyans and Egyptians right from the start, long before the recent Shishenq and Tefnakht returned to continue the work of the ancestors!

Khufu's attempts however were not fully successful, as we are told that both the kings Sahu-Ra and Ni-User-Ra (of the fifth dynasty) continued to 'brag' about defeating the Libyan armies and about the bounties they brought as offerings to their divine fathers. This means that the wars were almost continuous from pre-dynastic times right down to the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2200-1700 BC), during which the Egyptian Pharaohs managed to regain the upper hand and extracted tribute from the Libyans; and as a result a large number of Berbers served in the army of the Pharaohs, and some even rose to high positions in the palace; eventually leading the Libyans to regain control over Egypt about (ca. 945 BC), when the Libyan Berber king Shishenq succeeded in establishing the 22nd Dynasty and thereby starting what narrow-minded Egyptologists know as "The Libyan Period".

A few dynasties later, Berber Tefnakht, the chieftain of Neith's Sais and the founder of the 24th dynasty (722 - 715 BC), attempted to gain control over the whole of Egypt; but after acquiring the city of Memphis and proceeding southward to Heracleopolis, he was met by the Cushite Piankhi and eventually lost in 713–712 BC to Shabaka, the founder of the Nubian 25th dynasty.

The ancient Temehu tribes were among the allied tribes of the powerful Berber Meshwash (Meshwesh), the subjects of Shishenq, who ransacked Jerusalem during his reign as king of Egypt. The fact that the allied tribes included several Berber groups, like the Ribu and the Tehenu of eastern Libya, illustrates a common cause to liberate rather than invade one's land.

All these facts are not a figment of the imagination but an important part of human's early history, which has been largely ignored and even suppressed. To refer to this rich period of Berber history as "the Libyan invasion" does not necessarily represent the truth, and it is strongly advised that students of Libya ought to refrain from depending on established sources alone. A good example of this is the Palermo Stone saga!

And then, there is another interesting point rarely mentioned but by a few respected scholars: the Pharaohs were in the habit of chiselling out most of the references they did not wish to survive, and thus censorship is not that new, after all. They were also in the habit of inscribing only their victories and rarely their defeats, and therefore all the references to the Libyans were closely tied to the word: "defeat". Expectedly, there was no mention of Libyan victory (or victories) – this practice is still common in-to the present day. For instance we have evidence showing the blunt removal of the name of the Libyan God Amen from several stone engravings after the Akhnaten revolution, during which Amen was replaced by Aten.

Of course, there are hardly any serious studies exploring Libyan history and as such Libyan history remains to be written. If the amount of volumes produced in relation to Egypt or Greece were also produced in relation to Libya, a totally new history would emerge from beneath the Libyan desert to shock the world.


Temehu Side Lock


As one is often lured to talk of 'colour' and 'race' when the whole of humankind is found to be of one type, genetically sharing around 99.8% of its DNA material with chimpanzees and 58% with bananas, one can only say that (some of) the Temehu people were said to be 'fair skinned' and 'blue eyed'. Generally speaking the Libyans were in the Old Kingdom shown "red brown", with an Osiris-like chin-beard and tattoos. The Temehu, like the Tehenu, adored the Goddess Neith in tattoos.

They wore single hair locks on each side of the head and pointed beards, and had a headdress of two ostrich plumes. According to some sources, one feather symbolises 'chieftain status', while two feathers are generally worn by everyone else. But in other representations of Libyans we see chieftains with two feathers and their subjects wearing only one feather. The great chief of the Berber Meshwash, King Namlot, who was referred to as the "Great Chief of Chiefs", wore two ostrich-plumes, while his followers wore one each. Also Libyan god of ancient Libya were portrayed by the ancient Egyptians with one feather, like the goddess Maat and the god Shu, while the Libyan goddess Ament, the consort of Libyan Amen or Amon, was shown with one plume (on top of a cap with two side locks) in one representation, while in another she appeared with two plumes.

The long robe, fastened at the shoulders with golden clasps, and bordered with coloured lines, was a mark of dignity and rank, and therefore was more common than the kilt (skirt, kirtle). Over this garment the Temehu occasionally wore a cloak, under which they wore either a tunic, girded at the waist and stretched almost to the knee, or nothing except a belt. The cut of these robes, which sometimes were fringed, was derived from the skin-cloaks worn in classical times. They were regularly open from top to bottom, and sometimes ornamented with coloured designs and decorated with pieces sewn in the corners or at the waist. In late times, the tunic became more popular among the more civilised Libyans.

One of the most important temples illustrating the description of the Tehenu people is the temple of the King Sahu-Ra (of the fifth dynasty). The Tehenu were portrayed as tall people, dark skinned (or bronze-skinned), with long black hair, short pointed beards, slender faces and thick lips; features which closely relate them to their African relatives, whose languages were of the same group, probably originating in East or Central Africa: the Hamito-Semitic family which is now known as Afro-Asiatic, in which both Tamazight and Egyptian were classified as close 'sister languages'. Unlike the Temehu and other Libyan groups, the Tehenu wore no feathers on their hair. Their dress consisted mainly of two leather strips worn across the chest and held with a belt along the waist, which terminated in a penistache. They also wore animal tails as a sign of royalty. In historic times, only Berber children wore side-locks; with grown-up men, it indicated either royalty or the exercise of high priestly functions, rightly identified with the rites of the Libyan Goddess Neith. The long, lock-like beard, is very similar to the beard of Osiris, which the Pharaohs also adopted as a sign of royalty.

The Temehu kept small live stock, were skilled workers, and highly religious (or mythical) people. The main principal deities of the Temehu people were the Great Goddess Neith, and the Libyan God Amon or Amen. These two deities were later adopted by other cultures, like the Greek’s Zeus (Amon) and Athena (Neith) [see Plutarch, Pluto, Diodorus, Herodotus, etc.] The cemeteries discovered between the First and Second Cataracts (and dated to the Sixth Dynasty) were identified with the Libyan Temehu. The cemeteries show  a distinctive Libyan culture, comprising tombs with circular stone walls, burials in contracted positions, and body tattooing, most of which, according to Egyptian inscriptions, is identified with the Libyan Triple Goddess Neith par excellence.

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Author: Nesmenser © 2008.

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