Ancient Origins, the August 5, 2016 edition, allows Clyde Winters to dwell on historian Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853 – 1942) who believed, but could not prove, that there were Buddhist settlements in Egypt during the ‘Persian Period’ (approx. 525 – 405 BC).
Mr. Winters goes on to say that the “Gymnosophists” of Upper-Egypt and the Meroïc Empire were Buddhists too. And he reminds us of the word “Blemmya”.
J. Duncan M. Derrett (1922 – 2012 — “A Blemmya in India”, Numen Vol. 49, No. 4, 2002, pp. 460-474, Leiden) consulted “the” Vinaya of the Buddhists and concluded that the word “Blemmya” that he came across in “Vinaya 60, 146” had to be translated or interpreted as “Africans”.
A little research shows that the word Blemmya does not occur in the Pali Vinaya. This Vinaya has 12 Khanda (sections), not 60, and the longest Khanda has 27 Vagga (books), not 146.
Perhaps Mr. Derrett consulted the Mahāsangika Vínaya, a longish collection of monks’ rules that seems to have remained reasonably intact despite the fact that it has become obsolete, possibly 1000 to 1600 years ago.
And there is the Mūla-sarvastivāda Vínaya as per today used in the Himalayas among the Northern Buddhists. Even if this Mūla-sarvastivāda Vínaya were the source of Mr. Derret’s surmise, it would still not prove the existence of African Buddhists in India, or Buddhists in Africa (Egypt).
There is no extant dictionary or anthology of Buddhist texts that has the word Blemmya, let alone a description of its meaning. If at all to be interpreted or “translated” we would be more inclined to consider the Tamils of the Southernmost part of India as looking the part, that is, black, or in Mr. Derrettt’s thinking: “Blemmya”. The skin colour of the Southernmost Tamils is indeed is just as dark as that of sub-Saharan Africans. We come across these Tamils on the walls and ceiling of the caves at Kizil, along the Silk Road.
For the time being the word Blemmya is intranslatable.