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The Historical Responsibility of Ethiopian Public Scholars in the Redemption of Ethiopian History & Fikre Tolossa’s Book

Ghelawdewos Araia                                             February 27, 2017


The reason why I was prompted to write this essay is because I have sensed the rise of mythology over a declining historiography in Ethiopian research-cum-study circles and publications of Ethiopian history; and in some instances, it has become a standard practice to equate mythology with historiography and this trend, which has become a vogue, is quite alarming and I want to use this opportunity to call upon fellow Ethiopian scholars to do their best to maintain and replenish the flowers (historiography) that bloomed in Ethiopia in the 1960s and 1970s and beyond, and redeem them before they are completely taken over by weeds (mythology) of the present era.

One of the reasons why Ethiopian history is mythologized and falsified is when we Ethiopian scholars stop writing and researching; and in its extreme case, when some Ethiopian scholars exhibit non-committal and callous silence, it would not be surprising if the self-appointed historians demonstrate the audacity to distort Ethiopian history.   

Ethiopian historians have an historic responsibility to combat the mystification of Ethiopian history, and they must fulfill their obligation by reviving ancient and medieval Ethiopian civilizations with their attendant rich material and intellectual cultures. Time and again, I have tried to underscore the unique Ethiopian civilization contributions to world civilizations, including the phonetic Geez alphabets, rock hewn buildings, high rise edifices, calendar, currency, herbal medicine etc. (See, for instance, my article entitled The Magnificence of Aksum: Revisiting Ethiopian Civilization.1)

Theda Skocpol once said, “Our roles as public scholars, as influential citizens, and as mentors for civically engaged young adults have never been more important than they are right now.”2 Theda’s eloquent statement (appeal) on scholars is quite a fitting to the central thesis of this essay and to the message I want to convey to my fellow Ethiopian scholars. It is our solemn duty and responsibility to educate the young Ethiopians and lead them by example so that they embrace the authentic history of their country and this would have a tremendous positive impact on the psychological makeup of Ethiopian youth. To be sure, the young Ethiopians are not only the torchbearers of what we kindled but they are also the leaders of tomorrow. It is thus crucial that we arm our young citizens with Ethiopian historiography.

The young Ethiopians, who are now at their high school and college levels, must be enlightened and must have theoretical clarity in order to further fathom their history in depth. For this apparent rationale, thus, I like to first discuss the difference between mythology and historiography.

The etymology of the word ‘mythology’ is from the Greek mythos, meaning story of the people; and if we add logos (word, speech, study) to make a compound word, the fused term of mythos & logos becomes mythology in English. However, even the original meaning or intent of mythology (the spoken story of a people or oral tradition) has lost its meaning and became rather the story of fantastic creatures such as mermaids or gods and goddesses as in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. For instance, Ra and Apollo represented the sun in ancient Egypt and Greece respectively; what the ancient Egyptians and ancient Greeks in effect were doing was the personification of natural forces, but Ra and Apollo were their mental images, their creations, and they never existed.

In modern parlance, we can safely conclude that fantasy novels have replaced the ancient mythos, and to be sure mythology does not have to be substantiated and/or validated, but it has the power to appeal to the psychology of people and all that is needed is that the recipient audience has to believe in it and embrace it.

Historiography, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of mythology. Historians study a given topic or event based on theoretical approaches, primary sources (data), and techniques (methodologies), and although they do not altogether dismiss oral tradition (and don’t depend on it wholly either), they mostly rely on documentary and archeological evidences; and their findings have to be substantiated, verified, and validated; otherwise, they won’t become historical accounts. Evidence is extremely crucial for historians and that is why the historical method (a technique to verify a primary source) to authenticate their findings (in the case of archaeology) and research (in documents) are checked, counterchecked and tested for their validity.

The essential difference between historiography and mythology boils down to the synchronized validated knowledge in the case of the former, and mystique obscurity in the case of the latter; while historiography heavily relies on ‘core principles’ for determining reliability as in the works of Scandinavian historians Olden-Jorgensen and Thuren, mythology attempts to revive the silent ghosts of the past and pretends to give them essentialized meaning so that the target audience believes in its claims and make sense out of it. 

I am using this opportunity to evaluate (and not review in the conventional sense) Professor Fikre Tolossa’s new book on the origin of the Oromo and Amhara nationalities of Ethiopia. The author claims that Gojjam is the true origin of these two peoples and they both have descended from a primordial ancient ancestor by the name Deshet; and he gives his book a subtitle entitled “The Contribution of the Oromo to Ethiopian Civilization’” which is generally acceptable in Ethiopian history, although some diehards have a hard time accepting such a positive image of the Oromo.

When the book became available for public consumption, it immediately stirred controversy among Ethiopian circles in the Diaspora; its detractors disparagingly critiqued it and its supporters celebrated the publication of such a book and even invited the author for book signing ceremonies. However, since I was unable to get the book when it first came out, I was not in a position to come up with my own independent ideas about the contents and the main thesis of the book; nor did I want to make implicit assumptions and venture into intellectual gymnastics, and my best bet was to contact Dr. Fikre and he was willing to send a copy of his book to my address

Once I got the book, I began to read between lines and with extra diligence in order to avoid the bias I had from the reviews of the book; both from supporters and detractors. When I finished reading the book, I found the reviews of the detractors to have been exaggerated and biased, and equally the supporters’ reviews to have been bent with reflections of the current ethnocentric politics, although to my satisfaction the author combats narrow nationalism and upholds throughout the book pan-Ethiopian nationalism, a theme that I also hammered and promoted in many of my previous writings (see for instance my article entitled Pan-Ethiopian Agenda vs. Sectarian Ethnocentric Politics.3)

The title of the book, however, is misleading because some readers could have perceived its contents (before they read it) as narratives of and in solidarity with the recent uprisings in the Oromo and Amhara regions of Ethiopia. This is not surprising because some Ethiopian scholars and pseudo-intellectuals in the Diaspora wrote on the necessity of a united front of the Oromo and Amhara against the Ethiopian government or the “Woyane regime” as they prefer to call it. By extension, these so-called intellectuals clamored against the people of Tigray, a people that has nothing to do with the current Ethiopian politics at local, state, and federal levels; these kinds of toxic writings, of course, negatively serve the Ethiopian cause, and contrary to unifying Ethiopians, it divides them along ethnic lines.

Fikre Tolossa, to his credit, severely criticizes ethnic solidarity in favor of Ethiopian unity. In regards to the unity of the Ethiopian people and pride in Ethiopian identity, Dr. Fikre stands out especially in his challenges to the Oromo elites and organizations like the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). He challenges them by reaffirming his Ethiopian personality at the psychosomatic level and by suggesting the use of Geez alphabets (as opposed to Latin) in writing the Oromo language (Afan Oromo). He criticizes Haile Fida, the late leader of MEISONE or All-Ethiopia Socialist Party (now defunct), for his suggestion of Latin alphabets in scribbling Afan Oromo (p. 99). For Fikre, Anassimos Nesibu is a patriot who translated the Bible into Afan Oromo by using Geez alphabets (p. 100).

Fikre Tolossa indeed is a true Ethiopian and a patriot, a least in the way he advocates on behalf of the Ethiopian nation-state as opposed to ethnocentric politics that has gained currency among charlatans of the Ethiopian Diaspora. Not only does Fikre solidly maintains his love for Ethiopia, but he also candidly confronts his fellow Oromo who don’t see themselves as Ethiopians and he contends that these groupings are a section of the Oromo “who don’t understand their own history or who miserably overthrow their dear identity” (pp. 136-137).

The author’s emphasis on the unity of Ethiopia in general and the unity of Ethiopians in particular is demonstrated in his analysis of the psychological makeup of Ethiopians residing in greater Dire Dawa, south-eastern district of Ethiopia. Despite the diversity of linguistic groups, the people of Dire Dawa do not focus on language differences. The Dire Dawa and Harar people could serve as exemplar to other Ethiopians when it comes to forging cultural and psychological unity (p. 70). In a similar vein, on October 22, 2011, I advanced the same thesis of Ethiopian unity in my article entitled “Wollo: Microcosm Ethiopia and Exemplar of Ethiopian Unity.”4

Sometimes, the author emphasizes the unity and the solidarity of the Oromo and Amhara, which by the way reflects the title of the book in Amharic and the leitmotif of these two Ethiopian nationalities throughout the book. For instance, he states that the Oromo and Amhara must forget and abandon their past differences and confrontations and focus rather on their common values and live together through peace, equality, respect, and pride. If indeed the peace and progress paths are sought, past recriminations must be unearthed and future bright hope must be upheld (p. 122)

Fikre Tolossa also boldly asserts that he loves Ethiopia and his Ethiopian identity dearly and as a result his Oromo friends are perplexed by his positive attitude toward Ethiopia; his rationale is that Ethiopia is a great nation that bears the name of the great father Ethiopis; that the forefathers have defended Ethiopia’s boundaries; and that the forefathers played a role at global level; and for these reasons, he says, “I don’t want to confine myself in a narrow place called ‘Oromia’” (p. 126 and p. 254)

I believe, Fikre deserves a huge acclaim for transcending ethnocentric politics and promoting pan-Ethiopian nationalism. I don’t think his critics have a problem with Fikre’s Ethiopian stance, although they did not (or don’t want to) acknowledge the author’s good intentions in challenging narrow nationalists while at the same time consistently defending an all-Ethiopia unity and solidarity. However, it is highly probable that the critics are offended by Fikre’s explanatory portrayal of Amhara kings such as Yekuno-Amlak, Menelik II, and Haile Selassie II as half-Oromo; and in the case of Emperor Haile Selassie having Oromo and Islamic roots (p. 192)

Contrary to the detractors, however, and as indicated earlier, there were a significant number of Ethiopians who seem to have relished the book and even extended accolades to the author and in many venues he was invited for a book signing ceremony. But most of these groupings could have assumed (given the title of the book) that Fikre, after all, wrote the book with a deliberate intention to support the cause of the Oromo-Amhara uprisings. Alas, the intention and central thesis of the book is not to extol or praise the participants in the uprisings; it is geared toward exploring the origins and cultural similarities of the Oromo and Amhara.

One other thing that need to be mentioned, and which I think is an important contribution of the book, is the Oromo role in the making of Ethiopian civilization as discussed on pages 15-35. The author makes a comparative language analysis, more specifically Oromo words incorporated into Amharic. However, this comparative language must be defined with care because it is the Amharic that is spoken in Shewa and to some extent in Gojjam that has absorbed significant Oromo words as opposed to the Amharic spoken in Gondar that has embodied plethora of Tigrigna words.  

With the above backdrop, and having presented the positive contributions of the book, I now like to critically examine selective themes of the book that may have contravened the essence of historiography; this by no means diminishes the constructive themes of the chapters in the book, but I am obliged to critique aspects of the book so that the present generation of Ethiopians benefit from the interactive exchanges of views between Fikre Tolossa and myself. Long before I got the book, I have told Fikre via the email that I will render balanced views with respect to his book, and he responded by saying “go ahead and do what your conscience permits you.” I agree, and here I go:

Let me begin with page 47 of the book, in which the author argues the grandson of Menelik I by the name Aksumay became a pharaoh in Egypt when he was age 6 to 7. I will take this as a challenge, at least for now; but since I taught ‘Ancient Egypt’ for so many years, I was unable to find Aksumay in the chronology of Egyptian dynasties. Aleka Taye mentions him as ‘Aksumay Ramissi’, probably to mean Ramesses, but since eleven Ramesseses reigned over Egypt as members of dynasties 19 and 20, it would not be easy to decipher who Aksumay would be among these Ramesseses.

On the same page, the author argues that the Amara soldiers served as bodyguards to Aksumay and he attributes their name to the ancient city of Amara in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). Also, a city with a similar name, Amarna, was established under Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten), the husband of Nefertiti. In my opinion, these names have nothing to do with the Ethiopian Amhara people. The word ‘Amhara’ or ‘Amhare’ in Tigrigna connotes to ‘beauty’ in the context of physical appearance and conduct; thus, the Amara Ethiopian should be called ‘Amhara’ and their language should be ‘Amharigna’. This rationale of my mine implies that the Amhara, Oromo, Tigray, and other nationalities of Ethiopia are indigenous Ethiopian people.

Between page 47 and 49, Fikre discusses the genealogy of some famous Ethiopians like St. Yared (the first African to compose musical notations in the 6th century CE) whose ancestry is linked to Medebay (an Oromo ancestor). This may very well be, but studies and further studies are required to verify its authenticity. However, with respect to places named after Medebay, Fikre is absolutely right; they are found in Tigray and Eritrea; the one place found in Tigray, located in the Shire area, is Medebay Zana and it is contiguous to Tahtay Maichew, Tahtay Qorora, and Tselemti beyond the Tekeze River; that other place found in Eritrea is called Geza Medebay (literally, house of Medebay in Tigrigna).

On page 52, Fikre demystifies the etymology of the word ‘Ethiopia’ as Greek origin to mean ‘sun burnt face’ and I agree with him entirely; and to be sure, the Ethiopian nation was named after Ethiopis. However, the Greeks have also used the term Ethiopia (from ethio+ops or sun bunt face) to define black Africans; and Herodotus specifically mentions in his writings “the Ethiopians by the Red Sea”. Moreover, “Aithiopicka, a novel written by Heliodoros in 230 AD refers to all black people in general and Egyptians in particular.”5 But, we cannot settle down comfortably unless and until we figure out what the name of Ethiopia was before Ethiopis. In the chronology of Ethiopian monarchs, at least four kings reigned before Ethiopis for a total of 215 years; and during these two centuries before Ethiopis, what was the name of Ethiopia? The problem is that Fikre’s chronology of Ethiopian monarchs begins with Ethiopis and ignores the monarchs that reigned before him.

According to oral tradition and some Ethiopian chronicles, Ethiopia before Ethiopis was known as Bihere Agazi (the Agazi nation), and this name was first used after the Agazian (freedom fighters), whose name is derived from the Geez word ‘Ag’aze’ meaning ‘to emancipate’. It is this Agazian who forged a united front, defeated the alien Indian conqueror King Rama, and put on the throne Akhunas Saba II, circa 1993 BCE.  

Although Fikre makes references to history books and the writings of local Ethiopian historians in order to support his findings, I found it hard to critically examine his rationale in the context of historiography. His analysis is laden with Biblical sources (for instance, see pages 55, 60, 73, 163 etc) and this religious-cum-Biblical interpretation of history can hardly produce authentic historical accounts, and heavy dependence on the Bible ultimately leads to mythology; on page 60, for instance, the author states, “…after Moses liberated the Hebrews from slave bondage…”, but this cliché is fallacious if we carefully examine it in the context of historiography; to begin with, there were no permanent class of slaves in ancient Egypt (except for POWs that were temporarily enslaved) and Moses clashed with the pharaoh and the Egyptians who professed polytheism because he preached monotheism that was bequeathed to him by Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten), the harbinger of the idea of one god as opposed to multiple gods and goddesses.

Some of the etymologies for some terms and/or concepts that Fikre argues to be derivations from Ethiopian names are controversial. For instance, on page 56, he says the name ‘Portugal’ (a country in the Iberian Peninsula) is a derivation of ‘Port Gal’ or ‘Port Gala’ (the Port of Gala or Oromo), but this is untenable because the name ‘Portugal’ actually is derived from the Latin ‘Ports Cale’ to mean the ‘Port of Cale’. Similarly, on page 75 Fikre contends the ancestors of the people of Mali are the Oromo of Ethiopia, and the word ‘Mali’, according to him, means ‘what is it?’ As far as I am concerned and based on my teachings and findings, the word ‘Ma’ in ancient Egyptian Kemetic language and present-day Igbo means ‘to know’; in the latter case, ‘Ma’ is interchangeably used with ‘Mali’. Besides, after teaching African and International Studies for slightly over two decades, I never encountered Oromo-speaking ethnic group in West Africa. In point of fact, fifty languages are spoken in Mali but the major ones are Bambara, Fulani, Songhay, Senoufe, Malinke, Tuarege, and Dogon.

In regards to the origin of the Oromo language (p. 83), Fikre contemplates that it could be from the Suba in the Irob district of Eastern Tigray, because he reasons that there are similarities between the Suba and Oromo languages. I am not sure about this conjecture and the author himself is not sure about it either; however, Fikre’s hypothesis could prove right because I have lived in Adi Irob and I happen to know a Sidama female colleague who also lived in the same district and she told me that she has sensed a lot of Saho words that are very similar to or sound like Sidama.

Furthermore, on pages 90-91 Fikre discusses one Suba-Geez dictionary that was discovered by Merraras Aman Belay and he believes that this would be a wonderful opportunity in the revival of the Suba language, and in this regard, I am in full accord with Fikre. Moreover, Fikre argues that the Latin characters of Y, V, D, t, and S were borrowed from Suba. This does not surprise me at all! I myself have taught my students in my Ancient Egypt course how some Kemetic (Egyptian) words were incorporated into the English vocabulary; here are some examples:

Kemetic                                            English

Abut                                                   abode

Atackh                                               attack

Atum                                                  autumn

Khenna (boat)                                       canoe

Kaui                                                    cow

Fut                                                      foot

Ra (sun)                                             ray (sunlight)

On page 93, Fikre contends that Ethiopians got the Geez language from the Agazian, but he also says that there is no credible evidence that the Agazian brought the Geez alphabets with them. Fikre wrongly assumed that the Agazian came from somewhere (he believes they came from Gaza), but as I have indicated earlier the Agazian are the freedom fighters who were indigenous to Ethiopia, and the unique phonetic alphabets Geez, meaning freedom, is closely associated with their name. On the same page, and again on page 127, Fikre tells us that Ethiopis reformed or improvised Geez alphabets but Aleka Taye and other Ethiopian local historians give credit to Zegdur, the 31st king in the long Ethiopian chronology. I think all of them were looking for one genius inventor in creative writing, but I have a different take with respect to this perspective: the Geez revolution should be attributed to a collective genius and endeavor, as I have argued in The Magnificence of Aksum: Revisiting Ethiopian Civilization.

In regards to Fikre’s contention on page 161 with respect to King Esial’s age, I am perplexed and flabbergasted because the author took it for granted that the king lived for 480 years; and based on Biblical longevity stories, he further argues that humans have the potential to live up to 930 years. And I say, what happened to scientific inquiry and reason? Those of us who are engaged in scientific investigative discourse very well understand that humans cannot live for four centuries let alone nine centuries. If we observe and study the life spans of animals, including us humans, we will be confronted by a hard fact; for instance dogs live up to 10-13 years; Blue Whales live between 80 and 110 years; tortoise live up to 150 years; and the average life span for humans is 79, although in recent decades our life span has dramatically changed to an average of 80 and 90 and even 100 in some cases; the longest living human that has ever been recorded is 122 years and this is an exception to the rule.      

On page 173, the author tells us that the famous 4th century kings Ezana and Sezana (aka Abraha and Atsbeha) real names were Usayzena and Yizehna (to make them sound more like Amharic names) and further argues that their mother Ahoye was the daughter of an Oromo but she had also Amhara blood. Interestingly Ahoye’s coronation name was Abrihet, a typical Tigrigna name; whence did this name came from if indeed Ahoye was a mix of Oromo and Amhara? One important name that is not mentioned on this page is Adefa, the brother of Ezana and Sezana; incidentally, it is Sezana and Adefa who led the Ethiopian military expedition that conquered Kush (the Nubia area of northern Sudan), and the first capital city of the Zagwe Dynasty was named after Adefa.

The argument that the people of Tigray originated from Iraq simply because their name sounds like the River Tigris is logically untenable, and to be sure the Tigrigna speakers Ethiopians were indigenous to Ethiopia like other ethnic groups that I have labeled natives. On top of this, Fikre argues that the Agazian were Israelites and their language was Geez and I found this argument to be contradiction in terms because I could safely assume that they would speak Hebrew if indeed they were Israelites and as Hebrew is to the Israelites, Geez is to Ethiopians; Geez is spoken in Ethiopia only and its speakers should be native to Ethiopia as well.

The Biblical Moses, as discussed by the author, is the leader of the Hebrews who emancipated his people from slave bondage that I already challenged and questioned its credibility. On page 183 of the book, the story of Moses is repeated again and this time we are told that Moses put the stick that enabled him to part the waters of the Red Sea and a copy of the Ten Commandments in a box and gave it to a certain Abba Biher, who apparently is his brother-in-law.

The Moses story is a typical mythology and a cliché in the Judea-Christian tradition, and as I have already indicated at the beginning of this article, mythology could derail a worthwhile reflection of historiography. Moses got the idea of parting waters from the story of the Egyptian god Osiris (Asar), in which ancient Egyptians entertained the idea of ‘slicing the water if the name of Osiris is called once and if his name is called four times the heavens will collapse’. Moses also directly copied the Ten Commandments from the Egyptian Declaration of Innocence (aka Negative confessions) that contain all in all 42 commandments and the latter was written before Moses was born. (For further discussion on this, you may read my article ‘Is Christianity an Offshoot of the Egyptian Mystery System.6)

If we employ historiography as a methodology in order to unravel the story of Moses, we would be compelled to use reason and figure out that Moses and the Hebrews did not cross the Red Sea to go to Sinai; they were in and around Men-Nefer (Memphis), the capital city of Lower Egypt, and if we draw a line between Memphis and Sinai (north-east direction), they would simply cross over the shallow Reed Waters but they would mostly walk on land (via the Suez when there was a land bridge) and find themselves in their destination.

Fikre’s contention that Freminatos (later named Abba Selama or Kesate Birhan) and Odesiyos introduced Christianity into Ethiopia is false is palatable to me. Fikre is right because these persons who were too young when they were in Ethiopia and could hardly carry out the converting mission. The author convincingly argues (p. 185) that Ethiopians, on the contrary, taught Christianity to these so-called harbingers of the Christian faith. I too have ascertained the viability of this argument in the context of my research and findings; in fact, long before Ezana became Christian, there were Christian sects in Ethiopia.

On page 196, the author correctly analyzes the history of marriage arrangements amongst the powers that be; he indicates that the kings and aristocrats decided the fate of their daughters’ marriage by assigning them to be the wives of the sons of other kings and aristocrats, who were relatively powerful, and he reasons that women played a role in strengthening power relations. I agree with him entirely, but I like to add the other dimension of such relationships. Such kind of marriage arrangements were also made to maintain Ethiopian unity and mitigate conflict. For instance, my own great-great grandfather, Dejazmach Subagadis Woldu (d. 1831) made marriage arrangements of his siblings with the lords of Semien and the chiefs of Hirgigo (near Massawa); his sisters were also married to aristocrats in all Tigray, one of which was Weizero Tabotu who begot Weizero Silas, the mother of Emperor Yohannes.

On page 202, the author discusses the Era of Princes (1769-1855), a period in Ethiopian history when the country was divided among regional lords for seven decades; more specifically, Fikre discusses the reason why Ras Michael Suhul could not ascend to the throne; the reason for this, he says, was because Michael Suhul could not trace back his lineage in the Solomonic dynasty. This argument is partially right; the other reason is that Ras Michael dislodged the legitimate King Iyoas and the Fitha Biher (Justice of the Nation) and Kibre Negast (Chronicle of the Kings) won’t allow the coup maker to assume power as a king; the coup maker, however, would be tolerated as a kingmaker while usurping power and establish a weak symbolic king, and that is what exactly Ras Michael did: he installed Emperor Yohannes II as his subordinate.

Between 207 and 213, the author endeavors to prove the existence and the Ethiopian roots of Queen Saba (Sheba); he bases his argument on some documentary evidences and the Bible and I agree with him that Saba was indeed an Ethiopian queen and not queen of Yemen as the Yemeni claim in their official history. In Yemen there is indeed a place called Saba, but there is no credible evidence for the Yemeni to claim her as their queen. All we need now is additional archeological evidence on the Queen of Saba (aka Makda and Azieb) to further reinforce the Ethiopian identity of this great woman. Fikre’s argument on the etymology of ‘Yemen’ to mean ‘Ye man’ (‘whose’ or ‘whose is it?’ in Amharic), however, is doubtful. To my knowledge, ‘Yemen’ is derived from ‘Yumun’ to mean fertile land.

I like how Professor Fikre Tolossa portray Ethiopian women (p. 215) as proud descendants of the great Ethiopian queens and I share his antipathy to the condition of the present generation of Ethiopian women who have become servants in Arabian countries; this phenomenon, Fikre adds, “is a shame and sad encounter for Ethiopia.” What Fikre exclaims is a touching outcry, but our wise forefathers said it all: Ye Wedeqe Zaf Metrebia Yibezabetal (roughly translated, it means ‘too many axe will fall unto the fallen tree’), but I have a feeling that Ethiopia will rise again and modern Agazian will emancipate our women from servility and disgrace.

The author again mentions Queen Saba on page 217 and this time he tells us that she was the only Ethiopian who sojourned to Jerusalem in order to gain wisdom from Solomon. I am not comfortable with this kind of mythological interpretation of history. I respect the fact that the ancient Hebrews championed the idea of one god after Akhenaten and there is no doubt that Christianity evolved out of Judaism, and it is for this apparent reason that the Judeo-Christian tradition has a solid foundation in Ethiopia. However, a significant number of scholars, including historians, don’t seem to acknowledge (or don’t have the knowledge of) that the bulk of the Old Testament is borrowed from the ancient Egyptian theological teachings and writings. I have already mentioned the source of the Ten Commandments; additionally, I would like to candidly tell the reader that the Book of Proverbs of the Bible is a copycat rendition of the Instruction of Amenemope, a book authored by Amenemope, an ancient Egyptian philosopher who lived during the 19th Dynasty, more specifically during the Ramesside period (1300-1075 BCE)

For the most part and to a great extent, ancient Egyptians and Ethiopians have given so much to world civilization; they were givers and not recipients of wisdom and innovation and it therefore sounds bizarre if we argue that Ethiopians have gone to this and that place to gain wisdom and to study philosophy and ontology when in fact they coined and promoted the latter two kernels or embodiments of African conceptual systems. In plain English, Ethiopians, like the ancient Egyptians, founded knowledge-based magnificent civilization and can’t simply be recipients, although via diffusion they also exchanged ideas and experiences with other civilizations.

On page 231 of the book, the author calls for national reconciliation for all Ethiopians. He argues, if Nelson Mandela could reconcile his differences with his yesteryear white apartheid regime oppressor, there is no reason for Ethiopians not to act likewise at a larger scale given their history of harmony for thousands of years. All it requires, according to Fikre, is vision, honesty, and willingness; I concur, and it is for this good wish for his country and the welfare of the Ethiopian people that Fikre Tolossa must be considered a hero, as I have stated earlier.

On page 235 of the book, there are some egregious errors that need to be corrected. The author thinks that the names of places like Seraye and Shire are of Syrian origins, but as I have noted earlier when Ezana commissioned the expedition to Kush, some of the army commandeered by Sezana/Adefa were known as Seraye and the general fighting forces as Serawit, Geez terms to describe armed forces. The second error is the one on the etymology of the word ‘Tigray’ that I have already dealt with earlier; ‘Tigray’ did not originate from River Tigres and even if we yield to the conjecture of Tegaru (the people of Tigray) originating from Iraq, where does their Tigrigna language originate from and why couldn’t they speak Arabic and/or other languages that were prevalent in their hypothetical original home? The third error is that Fikre argues that Tigrigna is closer to Arabic than to Geez but this is not true; Tigrigna is much closer to Geez than to Arabic although it shares some words with the latter and Hebrew; he further tries to support his thesis by saying, “if Tigrigna and Geez are similar, Tigrayan students could have not gone to Gojjam and Gondar to learn Geez.” In regards to this argument, the author made a mistake by putting the horse behind the cart; Gondar and Gojjam as learning centers of Geez came much later in Ethiopian history; the first schools of Geez, Qine, Zema, calendar, medicine, architecture, writing and mathematics etc. were established in Aksum; Gondar and Gojjam are the inheritors of Aksum’s legacy, and it is not without reason that giant theologians like St. Yared and philosophers like Zer’aa Yaqob were from Aksum, not to mention brilliant emperors like Endibis, Aphilas, Ezana, Kaleb, Gebre-Mesqel, Armah etc

On page 247, the author makes a similar argument in regards to the closeness of Amharic to Afan Oromo as opposed to Geez. I have argued in my book (in Amharic and Tigrigna) entitled Cultures that We Must Preserve and Reject that Tigrigna and Amharic are two faces of the same coin and that both languages have indeed evolved out of Geez. In brief, the parent language for both Amharic and Tigrigna is Geez. Fikre is right when he argues that Afan Oromo and Amharic  shares a lot of words, but like I stated earlier it is the Amharic that is spoken in Shewa that shares many words with Afan Oromo .

On page 248, Fikre states that Ethiopia was mainly Kushitic until the Semitic people came from somewhere and settled among Ethiopians. The latter part of this sentence is my interpretation of Fikre’s contention, but according to recent finding, which I think is plausible, even the first Semites moved out from the Horn of Africa (more specifically Ethiopia) according to the esteemed late Professor Martin Bernal. For the sake of clarity, I am including Map 1 (The Diffusion of Afroasiatic) and Map 2 (The Diffusion of Semitic) from Bernal’s book Black Athena.7

Map 1 clearly shows how our early ancestors moved out from a central spot in Ethiopia to different directions within Africa; these migrating people were later known as central Cushitic, eastern Cushitic, southern Cushitic, Omo, Beja, Egyptian, Berber, Chadic, and Semitic; all but one (the Semitic) settled within the continent; some of the original Semites moved out from the same spot and migrated to Arabia.

Map 2 likewise endorses the movement of Ethiopic to Southern Arabia and further to the northern outer limits of the Arabian Peninsula. Moreover, the people who moved out from Ethiopia and other people who migrated from Egypt in the wake of a great civilization met in Sumeria, and as far as we know the Sumerians were black people who founded the first kingdom in Mesopotamia. This is an attempt on my part to demystify the Arabian or Jewish origins for the Semitic identity; as I have explained above and as the two maps clearly demonstrate the origin of the Semites is Ethiopia.

One confusing term for identifying Ethiopians is the term ‘Habesha’ which, in turn, gave rise to the name of Abyssinia (19th century Ethiopia). On page 249, Fikre defines ‘Habesha’ to mean unclean and filthy; to some extent the author is correct because in the Arab cultural context and perception, Habesha refers to despicable, contemptible, and deceitful people. The Arab culture is imbued with negative portrayal of Ethiopians and they even have a maxim that goes as ‘Habesh Hanesh’ (Habesha people are like snakes). However, the original meaning of Habesha is simply attributable to ‘mixed races’ with syncretic cultures.

On page 264, Fikre reiterates the mosaic of the Ethiopian people and the exemplar role that Ethiopia could play for other cultures and he also makes a passing remark with the perennial rivers of Ethiopia “that have been flowing for the last 3200 years.” With respect to the time frame of the flowing rivers, we have to be careful; not that it is a big deal, but for the sake of general knowledge, it should be known that the major Ethiopian rivers like the Blue Nile were formed during the Mesozoic period, that is, at least 180 million years geologic timeframe.

By way of concluding, I like to underscore once again the significance and urgency of teaching the correct and verifiable history of Ethiopia. We Ethiopian public scholars must shoulder an historical responsibility to educate authentic Ethiopian history to the present young generation of Ethiopians. However, while educating Ethiopians, and by extension other Africans and people of African descent in the Diaspora (for that matter all people in the world who seek the truth), we must educate ourselves by reaffirming and rediscovering Ethiopian history and we can do this only if we employ a methodological rigor in historiography, which could enable us to gather data that could be assessed in tandem with documentary and archeological evidences. Ultimately, our endeavor in seeking deep explanations of Ethiopian history will result in intellectually satisfying paradigms and in enlightening the uninitiated Ethiopians. This is a worthwhile mission, but time is of the essence!

Notes

1.     Ghelawdewos Araia, The Magnificence of Aksum: Revisiting Ethiopian Civilization, www.africanidea.org/magnificent_aksum.html ,  April 25,2005

2.     Theda Skocpol in Fernando Zamudo-Suarez, “After Trumps Election, Political Scientists  Feel New Urgency,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 16, 2016

3.     Ghelawdewos Araia, Pan-Ethiopian Agenda vs. Sectarian Ethnocentric Politics, www.africanidea.org/pan_ethiopian_agenda.pdf  , August 4, 2016; see also Beyond Ethnocentric Ideology and Paradigm Shift for a Greater

Ethiopian Unity,

www.africanidea.org/Beyond_Ethnocentric_Ethiopian_unity.html

4.     Ghelawdewos Araia, Wollo: Microcosm Ethiopia and Exemplar of Ethiopian Unity, www.africanidea.org/wollo.pdf , October 22, 2011

5.     Ghelawdewos Araia, The Magnificence of Aksum, Ibid

6.     Ghelawdewos Araia, Is Christianity and Offshoot of the Egyptian Mystery System? www.africanidea.org/egyptian-mystery.pdf , April 7, 2007

7.     Martin Bernal, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Vol. II, Rutgers University Press, 1993

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Appendix: Maps

 

 


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