What is in a Name? Ethiopia vs. Abyssinia
What is in a Name? Ethiopia vs. Abyssinia
By Prof. Dr. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis
Totalitarian practices in Eastern Africa rely heavily on falsification of History, promotion of colonial schemes, and educational, cultural, and intellectual confusion and ignorance. In the case of Abyssinia, the totalitarian state dogma hinges on a shameful act of usurpation of the name ‘Ethiopia’ that was attributed to Kush and Meroe, the black-faced people of the Ancient Sudan, who are the ancestors of Modern Oromos. All is in a Name!
The Usurpation of Name ‘Ethiopia’ by the Christianized Axumite Kingdom of Abyssinia
It is historically erroneous and politically misleading for the Amhara – Tigray ruled country to change its real name, i.e. Abyssinia, and pretend to be called by a name like Ethiopia that is totally irrelevant to these two peoples, who descend from the ancient Axumite Abyssinians, who in turn were the offspring of one Ancient Yemenite (please, do not confuse again! The Yemenites are non-Arab) tribe that was first attested in Ancient Yemenite epigraphic documentation. The Abyssinia-Ethiopia name change has traces in the past of course, but was intensified and generalized over the past 50 years, under colonial academic and diplomatic guidance of the Abyssinian ruling class.
We know of course that, for the needs of his royal propaganda, the invader of Ethiopia, which is present day Sudan, king Ezana of Axumite Abyssinia called himself ‘King of Ethiopia’, and he truly ruled the southeastern part of Ethiopia (i.e. Sudan), all that area of the Butana desert of Sudan that the Ancient Greeks and Romans used to call ‘Insula Meroe’ (Meroe Island), since in its entirety, it is surrounded by Atbara river, the United Nile river, the Blue Nile river, and lake Tana. The end 4th c. CE Abyssinian control of that part of the Ancient Ethiopia’s Meroitic Kingdom did not reach Ptolemais Theron, present day Suakin, the Ptolemaic and later Roman colony at the Sudanese Red Sea coast; it did not reach either the flow of the Blue Nile or even lake Tana itself, although the lake was not far from the southern Axumite borders.
Last but not least, Ezana’s control did not reach further in the north, the old Kushitic capital of Napata (present day Karima), let alone Meroitic territories north of Napata, i.e. Dongola, Kerma and the 3rd and 2nd cataracts’ area. A few successors to Ezana may have kept that part of Ethiopia (: Sudan) under their control, but after the middle of the 5th century and the rise of the three Christian Ethiopian kingdoms in Sudan, i.e. Nobatia, Makuria, and Alodia, the Axumite kingdom of Abyssinia did not control any area on the present day territory of Sudan or, to put it otherwise, any area belonging to the ancient Meroitic kingdom of Ethiopia.
Consequently, the Abyssinians had – already by that time – lost any legitimate right to the name of ‘Ethiopia’; we know of course that the kings of Axum kept using it among their royal titles, but this propaganda was related to the Christianization of their state. The use of the name ‘Ethiopia’ that they were making was rather a distortion of Biblical dimensions, since according to their erroneous and falsified interpretations the christening of Abyssinia was ‘prophesized’ long ago by means of the Biblical verse stating that Kush (rendered as ‘Ethiopia’ in the Septuagint Greek translation of the 70 Jewish elders whom Ptolemy II invited in Alexandria for the purpose of translation) “will extend its hand to the Lord”.
Of course, all this is just medieval non-sense! You cannot make ‘use’ of a verse stating that another country will accept a faith, and pretend that this verse refers to you because you accepted that faith, whereas the other country did not! Either you invade the other country or not, you prove nothing! Whereas it is evident that there were state reasons for the Abyssinian invasion of Ethiopia (Meroe), a theological dimension cannot be denied to that attack of Ezana. In any case, it is only a degenerate, childish attempt to attempt to vindicate the Biblical prophecy about Ethiopia (: Sudan) for Axum (: Abyssinia). For both, the Old Testament and the New Testament, Axumite Abyssinia simply does not exist!
The Biblical verse refers to Ethiopia, that is Sudan, and it can eventually mean / insinuate / herald the formation of the three Christian states of Sudan or to the later acceptance of Islam by the Cushitic Ethiopians or to something that has not yet happened; all these possible interpretations are of course for those who do not accept that the verse refers to its own historical environment, and to developments much earlier than the Christianization or the Islamization of Ethiopia.
As we know, the term ‘Ethiopia’ implied continuously – throughout the Abyssinian Dark Ages – a shadowy reference to the deeds of Ezana and to the Abyssinian interpretation of the Biblical verse.
Examples of pre-Christian Meroitic Ethiopian – Axumite Abyssinian divide
Studying the socio-historical divide between the Semitic Amhara and Tigray Abyssinians and the various African Cushitic peoples, modern scholarship is bound to focus on very different backgrounds, each encompassing various, and qualitatively different, old civilizations. According to a certain approach, the Oromo culture, generally community- and faith-based, is in confrontational clash with the Amhara – Tigray culture, generally dictatorial and fallacy-based. The approach proved to be correct, and in this regard the term ‘qualitatively different civilizations’ applies even to earlier stages of the two cultures, antedating the introduction of Christianity and Islam. Meroe and Axum were truly very different.
We do not know much about Amanikhatashan, the Meroitic counterpart of Negus (king) Zoskales of Axum for whom we have some details within the text of the Periplus of the Red Sea. And we do not know much, even not the name of the Abyssinian Axumite counterpart of the great Qore Shorkaror of Meroe, who lived earlier, at the last years of Jesus’ historical presence. We know that Zoskales had learnt Greek, and we are sure that there were Greek artists at the Ethiopian court of Meroe, probably disembarking at Prolemais Theron/Suakin. We also attest the presence of Iranian artists at Meroe thanks to a relief at Djebel Qeili (about 150 km east of Khartoum), a kind of a drawing on a granite outcrop in the middle of the desert that attributes strong solar insignia to the Supreme Meroitic god. This looks like a Mithraic version of Amun congratulating and supporting the Qore in the aftermath of a victory that is depicted in a typically Iranian way. We find Indian influences and this is also normal due to the development of maritime and commercial contacts.
However, all these elements show similarities that lie on a substrate of significant differences. In the aforementioned relief, Shorkaror is depicted as wearing a quiver and carrying a bow, arrows, a spear and sword. He is shown, at the aftermath of a battle, victorious over his enemies. He stands on a row of four bound prisoners. He holds seven more by a leash that he is handing to the god. Other enemy figures are shown in rows like they are lying dead on a field of battle or being thrown off a cliff. The god hands the king a clump of dhurra (millet, a grain). The millet probably symbolizes good crop harvests. This is something you would never find in pre-Christian or Christian Abyssinia. It shows a deep involvement in a pastoral and peaceful style of life that was not interrupted by the fight that had taken place!
The differences between Semites and Hamites/Cushites are very striking, yet the subject has not been thoroughly studied. Hamitic rule never took the absolute monarchical aspect the concept of kingdom had among the Semites. One cannot compare Khefren to Naram Sin, Senwosre II to Shamshi Adad I, Ramses III to Tiglathpileser I, Taharqa and Nechao to Assurbanipal and Nabukadnezzar. There have been great Hamitic military leaders in Egypt and in Ethiopia (: Kush/Sudan), but their power was never as compact and as overwhelming as it was among Semitic kings and emperors. Semitic discipline reminds us German order at times!
More specifically among the Meroitic Ethiopians the role of the Queen, the ‘Kandake’ was highly stressed! From the Akkadians to the Yemenites and from Aramaeans to Hebrews, we have only some exceptions within the context of 2700 years of pre-Christian Semitic History. As we have reached a level of deep understanding of the Ancient Egyptian History, we now know that the ancient temples were not only holy places, universities and research centers, but they also represented a kind of social, cultural, and theoretical institutions parallel to Modern History’s political parties and associations. This was reflected in Ancient Ethiopia as well. Among Semites it was not like this.
The false name ‘Ethiopia’ as the Colonial Choice in Modern Abyssinia
During the Modern Colonial times, the tiny kingdom of Abyssinia, which was limited in the small Amhara territory (because of the Ottoman control of the Red Sea coast land and a significant portion of the inland), became the object of Western academic Orientalist research and, in parallel, the stake of the colonial involvement and manipulation. If properly manipulated, Abyssinia could be useful to two visions of colonial Africa that were opposite to one another but, at the same time, they were used as tools in order to kick the Ottoman Empire out of its vast possessions in the Black Continent.
As a matter of fact, no less than 7 million km2 of African soil belonged directly to the Ottoman Empire at the eve of Napoleon’s disembarking at Abukir, east of Alexandria. If one takes into consideration territories where the Ottoman control was indirect (local sultans and emirs acknowledged the khalifah-sultan at Istanbul as the sole head of Islam and as their superior (since his name was mentioned first in the khutbahs (sermons) every Friday in the mosques), more than 12 million km2 of African territory belonged to the Ottoman Empire.
The aforementioned two opposite visions were also utilized in order to prevent other powers, mostly Germany and Italy, from getting sizable portions of the African cake.
The two colonial visions were the horizontal and the vertical ones or if you want a different description, they consisted in an alignment with the parallels or an adjustment with the meridians. The former expressed the French colonial approach that Africa (or most of it) could be unified under colonial rule through an expansion from the West to the East, from Mauritania and Senegal to Sudan, and from Congo to Somalia.
The opposite vision was the British way, which insisted on the opposite axis; they wanted to ‘prove’ that the easiest colonial control of Africa could be ensured by means of an expansion from South to North. Finally, after WW I, the British were successful in controlling an uninterrupted territory from South Africa to Alexandria. The French failed to materialize their vision of putting under uninterrupted colonial control territories from the Atlantic coast to the Red Sea coast or to the Eastern African coast. Thus, Djibouti and Madagascar were disconnected from the other French African dominions. However, the French were successful in controlling the major part of Africa.
But the clash between the two colonial visions and axes was terrible. The British had to do all they could to stop French short of reaching the Eastern African coast. It was a very long project and fight; it lasted an entire century. The French were slowly advancing from the West, and they had the upper hand in Egypt. Facing an 1870-defeated (by the Prussian army) France, England had still difficulties to prevail over the French in Egypt before 1882. What one attests in today’s Darfur is the continuation of problems ensuing from the serious Fashoda incident (18-9 to 3-11 1898) between the French Major J.B. Marchand and the British Lord Kitchener that brought France and England to the brink of war, just six years before they managed to set up the Entente Cordiale.
Envisioning expansion and anticipating developments, the British contacted the Abyssinian kingdom several times in the beginning and the middle of the 19th century. In fact, the earliest form of contacts was resumed at the end of the 18th c. with the travel of James Bruce. Around the middle of the 19th c., the British attempted to convince the powerless, underdeveloped, uneducated, and isolated ruling class of Abyssinia about the importance of expansion; as per the English suggestions, the eventual exploits and the annexation of neighboring lands would permit – supposedly – the refractory court of the obscurantist kingdom to obtain significant power.
At those days, everything was at stake, and one could not know what would come next. For the British it would be far better that the small kingdom expanded towards the south of present day Abyssinia at a moment they had not yet achieved the establishment of their ‘meridian’ axis, because they were worried because of various French colonial successes in Africa. The French could have reached – from Congo and Central Africa – the South of Sudan and from there to the south of present day Abyssinia. At a later stage they would be able to vanquish the inexperienced soldiers of the old fashioned African monarchy, reducing the British vertical (or meridian) vision to ashes. As a matter of fact, the Abyssinian colonial expansion at the detriment of the kingdoms of the Oromo, the Kaffas and other Cushitic nations was the work of incessant, subtle British diplomacy.
There was another colonial trap prepared for the 19th and the 20th c. Abyssinian kings, and they fell even more easily therein. French and other European scholars were visiting all these parts of Africa either as missionaries and political agents or as pioneering explorers and decipherers. Not much time had passed until they were able to read earlier unknown Gueze manuscripts and to understand them better than the ignorant and uneducated monks of Abyssinia whose readings in Gueze literature were limited, derisory and contemptible. Even today the situation did not turn better!
The authoritative Catholic Encyclopedia states the following about them (entry Abyssinia): “The oldest translation of the Bible into Ethiopian dates from the fourth century, having been made in Gheez. Pell, Platt, and Dillman have edited some of the manuscripts in London and Leipzig, but the majority remain untouched, in convents of Abyssinian monks. The present clergy are buried in a state of deplorable ignorance. Little is required of secular priests beyond the ability to read and to recite the Nicene creed, and a knowledge of the most necessary liturgical rites. The monks in their numerous convents receive an education somewhat more complete, and occasionally there are found among them men versed in sacred hermeneutics, who can recite by heart the entire Bible”.
The second trap concerns precisely the introduction by the Abyssinian authorities of the name of ‘Ethiopia’, and this has to do a lot with the French ideological and cultural plans for the entire Middle East. French, Italian, and other scholars convinced the various successive ‘negus’ and political rulers to obliterate the name of Abyssinia and to introduce the name of Ethiopia. This would serve a multifold colonial purpose that the ignorant and naïve political class of Abyssinia could never imagine.
First of all, it would engulf Abyssinia on permanent basis deeper into the marshes of stagnation and underdevelopment, because lack of authenticity and cultural – national confusion can produce a very negative, explosive situation. A country with confused identity can never achieve important understanding, historical – political knowledge, and real emancipation. This trickery would keep Abyssinia permanently as a low level member of the Third World. It ensured that never Abyssinian intellectuals would attempt to reassess their Axum and Gondar past through modern viewpoints in order to setup a new, genuinely modern and humanist, but also authentically Axumite Abyssinian vision of the world. Such a change would in turn generate a more democratic political environment, autonomy for the earlier oppressed nations and ethno-religious groups. All would then be empowered with stimuli for genuine development and progress; and this of course always contradicted the Anglo-French colonial agenda for Africa.
Abyssinian pretensions to the name of Ethiopia would in addition have an impact on the part of the Middle East that concerned France (and consequently it also concerned England, Germany, Russia, and later the USA) much more than the tiny, marginal and backward Gondar pseudo-kingdom. This was the area of the Arabic-speaking peoples, from Morocco to Iraq, a vast area that had already faced the very negative developments that the French and British colonials triggered. To illegally detach all these lands from their legitimate and wholeheartedly accepted ruler, the Sultan and Caliph of the Ottoman Empire, France diffused gradually a nationalist idea, which initially was totally rejected by the local people: the system of Pan-Arabism.
This falsehood was a fabricated bogus version of History that would make of the Arabic-speaking peoples a supposed ‘nation’, and would bestow upon them unbelievably exaggerated promises for wealth, development and power. By forming the elite, the French created a dynamics, which was stimulated by colonial and local agents, who diffused unprecedented hatred and confusion about the non-Arabic identity of the Arabic speaking Muslims. To drive the Arabic-speaking populations to advanced levels of ignorance, and to make them therefore easier to manipulate against their own interests and their own places of origin that were provinces of the Ottoman Empire, France deployed a great part of effort to keep them far from any serious consideration, study, and research, let alone understanding and reassessment of their pre-Islamic and pre-Christian past.
A good example of the various ways pursued by the French in their colonial interference is the following; whereas in Greece, all the intellectuals, academia, politicians and even average men were encouraged to learn Ancient Greek, and to delve into what was said to be their own past (whereas it was not, because the so-called Modern Greeks are in their majority Slavs, Albanians, Vlachians and mixed ethnic groups that were forced to learn the Modern Greek fabricated language), in Egypt the first Egyptian allowed to study, learn and be able to read Egyptian Hieroglyphics lived and worked no less than 100 years after the decipherment of Egyptian Hieroglyphics by Champollion! Ever since, the situation turned even worse with the Greek secondary schools offering – obligatory to all although unnecessary – courses of Ancient Greek, whereas the miserable Egyptian intellectual and academic bogus-elite could never think of introducing – even for one year – the study of Egyptian Hieroglyphics in the Egyptian Secondary education, although there are people who studied Egyptology in the University of Cairo, and they could teach. So, immense was the colonially forced dissociation of Modern Egyptians from their national pre-Christian heritage! But this is the result of Pan-Arabism…
Similar ignorance about the pre-Islamic and the pre-Christian past reigns elsewhere: in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, etc. Why this is necessary for the colonial plans of France and England one may understand relatively easily. Greece was to become part of Europe and be further utilized against the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, whereas Egypt should be kept at a low-level third world country from where colonial powers would only extract materials. Educational and academic development (invariably containing historical falsifications) is necessary in Europe, not in the colonized periphery (where ignorance and obscurantism ‘must’ prevail).
Quite obviously, the promoting powers of the Islamic radicalism, fanaticism, and extremism have been France and England. By doing their best to keep the populations of the Arabic speaking countries far from their own past (Egyptian, Assyrian-Babylonian, Phoenician, Aramaean, Meroitic-Ethiopian, Carthaginian and Berber) at a moment Islam was already misinterpreted, misunderstood and ultimately lost, France and England gradually but steadily pushed these countries’ populations to Islamic terrorism.
Certainly, the colonial scheme should be viewed as a very big plan, not something to be carried out in a year or a decade. The French even intended to use Islamic terrorism against America; they already did so three years ago. In a way it is colonial France that prepared the minds and the hands of these suicide pilots of September 11th. The Anti-Americanism that Europe still generates, when intermingling with the dark ignorance and the hysteric hatred that have been well prepared for 200 years, can create a definitely uncontainable explosive material that the Mankind will need many decades to overcome.
In fact, all these fake states are very ‘recent’, if compared with the colonial scheme that has a past of at least 200-300 years. What is Sudan as modern state for instance? A new country with a past of just 48 years of nominal independence! Within this context of enduring colonial interests, it can be understood that the colonial powers did not leave a single chance to Sudan to be duly attracted by its Antiquities and develop the study of its Antiquities in an unbiased manner. This would help the Sudanese shape a true national identity, understand the historical continuity of their pre-Islamic culture, and successfully undertake a nation-building effort. In fact, not only the material antiquities but also the pre-Christian and pre-Islamic Ethiopian (: Sudanese) intellectual, cultural and spiritual heritage and the real diachronic identity of Cush and Meroe were stolen by the bogus-academia of France, Prussia, England and other colonial countries.
The robbery of Lepsius, who transported in the 1840s colossal statues from Karima to Berlin, must be denounced, and the majestic Kushitic monuments must return back to Napata, the capital of Taharqa. But the worst robbery cannot even be seen, let alone detected by present day Sudanese; the colonial Orientalists stole the soul of historical Ethiopia and left the destitute and besotted Sudanese with the impression that they are an independent, African Muslim country.
With regard to Egypt the colonial powers applied their scheme earlier. For the rest of the Ottoman provinces (from Morocco’s borders to Iraq to Yemen to Oman), they had the time to further advance the bogus-theory of Pan-Arabism, terribly oppressing and tyrannizing the non-Arabic-speaking populations, i.e. the Berbers (in Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Mauritania), the Copts and Nubians (in Egypt) and the Aramaeans (in Syria, Iraq, SE Turkey, SW Iran, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the Emirates); however, these are the true nations of the wider region and they constitute the absolute ethnic (but not linguistic) majority of all these countries.
On the other hand, Sudan was so clearly unrelated to anything Arab that the colonial powers would have extreme difficulty to divert the natural local interest towards the glorious Ethiopian Past of Sudan. That is why they kept Egyptians there to diffuse confusion and ignorance, along with the vulgar amalgamation of Arab nationalism with Islamic religious fanaticism. That is why they did not wish to have the name ‘Ethiopia’ accessible by, and available to, the Sudanese! It would create a dangerous challenge to the disastrous colonial plan of pulling Sudan to the backward and disastrous falsehood of Pan-Arabism.
At the end, the usurpation of the name ‘Ethiopia’ by Abyssinia would create the oxymoron of the Abyssinians first, imposing their minority culture (only nominally) on the country that they have long tyrannized, and second, at the same time, forcing a fake identity on themselves the, because they accepted as theirs the name of a large part of the nations that they have long been oppressing, i.e. the Oromos, the Afars, the Ogadenis, the Sidamas, the Kaffas and others. This can only herald a national disaster for the Abyssinians as well.
Political Exit of a Millennia long Semitic – Kushitic Divide
Before point out explicitly that no state can possibly exist within the borders of present day Abyssinia (that is falsely called Ethiopia), because of the oppressive and genocidal past of that land, we have to denounce as an aberration the fact that Amhara and Tigray Abyssinian politicians and bogus-intellectuals call other peoples living in Abyssinia ‘Abyssinians’ or ‘Habasha’.
The only modern Habasha, as continuation of the Semitic Yemenite tribe Habashat (the name of which we find in Ancient Yemenite epigraphic documentation of the second half of the first millennium BCE) are the Amharic and Tigrinya speaking people of Abyssinia and Eritrea. The event is quite indicative of the confusion spread by the totalitarian rulers of Addis Ababa, who attempt to remove their national name from their own peoples (the Amhara and the Tigray) and then to project it onto other peoples, whom they have oppressed for more than 100 years under various forms of state, royal, communist and republican.
Bearing in mind that only a pertinent perception of the local genuine cultural – historical identity can help a state establish a strong, viable and productive educational system, two possible solutions for today’s fake Ethiopia can be envisaged by all the parts concerned.
• Either there will be a peaceful separation and secession – and in this case the two states will co-exist, namely a Cushitic state (turning around the Oromo majority, and encompassing other Cushitic nations, namely the Ogadenis, the Sidamas, the Afars and the others), which will be named Ethiopia, and a Semitic Amhara –Tigray state, which will be called Abyssinia.
- Or otherwise the falsely named Ethiopian state will adopt the name Abyssinia, openly showing its totalitarian nature, and then it will be up to the oppressed nations to reject the Amhara – Tigray rule in a rather explosive manner that would destabilize even further the entire Eastern Africa and end up with the formation of 10-15 independent states – pretty much like what happened in Yugoslavia.