“The Ethiopians were regarded by the Greeks as the best people in the world. Homer speaks of them in the Iliad as the ‘blameless Ethiopians’. He claims that they were visited by Zeus, the king of the gods, by the goddess Iris, who travelled to their country to participate in their sacrificial rites, and by Poseidon, the sea god, who ‘lingered delighted’ at their feasts. This theme was taken up, in the first century BC, by Diodorus of Sicily, who asserted that the gods Hercules and Bacchus were both ‘awed by the piety’ of the Ethiopians, whose sacrifices, he claims, were the most acceptable to the gods.”
Passage from ‘The Ethiopians, A History’ by Richard Pankhurst
Ethiopia and the Origin of Civilization Part 2
By John G. Jackson (1939)
In the study of ancient affairs, folklore and tradition throw an invaluable light on historical records. In Greek mythology we read of the great Ethiopian king, Cepheus, whose fame was so great that he and his family were immortalized in the stars. The wife of King Cepheus was Queen Cassiopeia, and his daughter, Princess Andromeda. The star groups of the celestial sphere, which are named after them are called the ROYAL FAMILY (the constellations: CEPHEUS, CASSIOPEIA and ANDROMEDA.) It may seem strange that legendary rulers of ancient Ethiopia should still have their names graven on our star maps, but the voice of history gives us a clue.
A book on astrology attributed to Lucian declares that: “The Ethiopians were the first who invented the science of stars, and gave names to the planets, not at random and without meaning, but descriptive of the qualities which they conceived them to possess; and it was from them that this art passed, still in an imperfect state, to the Egyptians.” The Ethiopian origin of astronomy is beautifully explained by Count Volney in a passage in his Ruins of Empires, which is one of the glories of modern literature, and his argument is not based on guesses. He invokes the weighty authority of Charles F. Dupuis, whose three monumental works, The Origin of Constellations, The Origin of Worship and The Chronological Zodiac, are marvels of meticulous research. Dupuis placed the origin of the zodiac as far back as 15,000 B.C., which would give the world’s oldest picture book an antiquity of 17,000 years. (This estimate is not as excessive as it might at first appear, since the American astronomer and mathematician, Professor Arthur M. Harding, traces back the origin of the zodiac to about 26,000 B.C) In discussing star worship and idolatry, Volney gives the following glowing description of the scientific achievements of the ancient Ethiopians, and of how they mapped out the signs of the zodiac on the star-spangled dome of the heavens:
Should it be asked at what epoch this system took its birth, we shall answer on the testimony of the monuments of astronomy itself, that its principles appear with certainty to have been established about seventeen thousand years ago, and if it be asked to what people it is to be attributed, we shall answer that the same monuments, supported by unanimous traditions, attribute it to the first tribes of Egypt; and reason finds in that country all the circumstances which could lead to such a system; when it finds there a zone of sky, bordering on the tropic, equally free from the rains of the equator and the fogs of the north; when it finds there a central point of the sphere of the ancients, a salubrious climate, a great but manageable river, a soil fertile without art or labor, inundated without morbid exhalations, and placed between two seas which communicate with the richest countries; it conceives that the inhabitant of the Nile, addicted to agriculture from the facility of communications, to astronomy from the state of his sky, always open to observation, must have been the first to pass from the savage to the social state; and consequently to attain the physical and moral sciences necessary to civilized life.
It was, then, on the borders of the upper Nile, among a black race of men, that was organized the complicated system of the worship of the stars, considered in relation to the productions of the earth and the labors of agriculture. Thus the Ethiopian of Thebes named stars of inundation, or Aquarius, those stars under which the Nile began to overflow; stars of the ox or bull, those under which they began to plow, stars of the lion, those under which that animal, driven from the desert by thirst, appeared on the banks of the Nile; stars of the sheaf, or of the harvest virgin, those of the reaping season; stars of the lamb, stars of the two kids, those under which these precious animals were brought forth. Thus the same Ethiopian having observed that the return of the inundation always corresponded with the rising of a beautiful star which appeared towards the source of the Nile, and seemed to warn the husbandman against the coming waters, he compared this action to that of the animal who, by his barking, gives notice of danger, and he called this star the dog, the barker (Sirius). In the same manner he named the stars of the crab, those where the sun, having arrived at the tropic, retreated by a slow retrograde motion like the crab of Cancer. He named stars of the wild goat, or Capricorn, those where the sun, having reached the highest point in his annuary tract, imitates the goat, who delights to climb to the summit of the rocks. He named stars of the balance, or Libra, those where the days and nights being equal, seemed in equilibrium, like that instrument; and stars of the scorpion, those where certain periodical winds bring vapors, burning like the venom of the scorpion.
(Volney’s Ruins of Empires, pp. 120-122, New York, 1926)
The traditions concerning Memnon are interesting as well as instructive. He was claimed as a king by the Ethiopians, and identified with the Pharaoh Amunoph or Amenhotep, by the Egyptians. A fine statue of him is located in the British Museum, in London. Charles Darwin makes a reference to this statue on his Descent of Man which is well worth reproducing: “When I looked at the statue of Amunoph III, I agreed with two officers of the establishment, both competent judges, that he had a strongly marked Negro type of features.” The features of Akhnaton (Amennhotep IV), are even more Negroid than those of his illustrious predecessor. That the earliest Egyptians were African Ethiopians (Nilotic Negroes), is obvious to all unbiased students of oriental history. Breasted’s claim that the early civilized inhabitants of the Nile Valley and Western Asia were members of a Great White Race, is utterly false, and is supported by no facts whatsoever. A similar racial bias is shown by Elliot Smith in his work, The Ancient Egyptians and Their Influence Upon the Civilization of Europe, p. 30, New York & London, 1911. “Not a few writers,” says he, “like the traveler Volney in the 18th century, have expressed the belief that the ancient Egyptians were Negroes, or at any rate strongly Negroid. In recent times even a writer so discriminating as Ripley usually is has given his adhesion to this view.” (The writers referred to here, are Count Volney, the French Orientalist and Professor William Z. Ripley, of Harvard University, an eminent American Anthropologist.) Professor Smith is convinced that these men are wrong, because he holds that there is a “profound gap that separates the Negro from the rest of mankind, including the Egyptian.” (Ancient Egyptians, p. 74.) Another English scholar, Philip Smith, is far more rational in discussing this point:
No people have bequeathed to us so many memorials of its form complexion and physiognomy as the Egyptians. If we were left to form an opinion on the subject by the description of the Egyptians left by the Greek writers we should conclude that they were, if not Negroes, at least closely akin to the Negro race. That they were much darker in coloring than the neighboring Asiatics; that they had their frizzled either by nature or art; that their lips were thick and projecting, and their limbs slender, rests upon the authority of eye-witnesses who had traveled in the country and who could have had no motive to deceive. The fullness of the lips seen in the Sphinx of the Pyramids and in the portraits of the kings is characteristic of the Negro. (The Ancient History of the East, pp. 25-26, London, 1881.)
We read of Memnon, King of Ethiopia, in Greek mythology, to be exact in Homer’s Iliad, where he leads an army of Elamites and Ethiopians to the assistance of King Priam in the Trojan War. His expedition is said to have started from the African Ethiopia and to have passed through Egypt on the way to Troy. According to Herodotus, Memnon was the founder of Susa, the chief city of the Elamites. “There were places called Memnonia,” asserts Professor Rawlinson, “supposed to have been built by him both in Egypt and at Susa; and there was a tribe called Memnones at Moroe. Memnon thus unites the eastern with the western Ethiopians, and the less we regard him as an historical personage the more must we view him as personifying the ethnic identity of the two races.” (Ancient Monarchies, Vol. I, Chap. 3.)
The ancient peoples of Mesopotamia are sometimes called the Chaldeans, but this is inaccurate and confusing. Before the Chaldean rule in Mesopotamia, there were the empires of the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians and Assyrians. The earliest civilization of Mesopotamia was that of the Sumerians. They are designated in the Assyrio-Babylonian inscriptions as the black-heads or black-faced people, and they are shown on the monuments as beardless and with shaven heads. This easily distinguishes them from the Semitic Babylonians, who are shown with beards and long hair. From the myths and traditions of the Babylonians we learn that their culture came originally from the south. Sir Henry Rawlinson concluded from this and other evidence that the first civilized inhabitants of Sumer and Akkad were immigrants from the African Ethiopia. John D. Baldwin, the American Orientalist, on the other hand, claims that since ancient Arabia was also known as Ethiopia, they could have just as well come from that country. These theories are rejected by Dr. II. R. Hall, of the Dept. Of Egyptian & Assyrian Antiquities of the British Museum, who contends that Mesopotamia was civilized by a migration from India. “The ethnic type of the Sumerians, so strongly marked in their statues and reliefs,” says Dr. Hall, “was as different from those of the races which surrounded them as was their language from those of the Semites, Aryans, or others; they were decidedly Indian in type. The face-type of the average Indian of today is no doubt much the same as that of his Dravidian race ancestors thousands of years ago. And it is to this Dravidian ethnic type of India that the ancient Sumerian bears most resemblance, so far as we can judge from his monuments. And it is by no means improbable that the Sumerians were an Indian race which passed, certainly by land, perhaps also by sea, through Persia to the valley of the Two Rivers. It was in the Indian home (perhaps the Indus valley) that we suppose for them that their culture developed. On the way they left the seeds of their culture in Elam. There is little doubt that India must have been one of the earliest centers of human civilization, and it seems natural to suppose that the strange un-Semitic, un-Aryan people who came from the East to civilize the West were of Indian origin, especially when we see with our own eyes how very Indian the Sumerians were in type.” (The Ancient History of the Near East, pp. 173“174, London, 1916.) Hall is opposed in his theory of Sumerian origins by Dr. W. J. Perry, the great anthropologist, of the University of London. “The Sumerian stories or origins themselves tell a very different tale,” Perry points out, “for from their beginnings the Sumerians seem to have been in touch with Egypt. Some of their early texts mention Dilmun, Magan and Meluhha. Dilmun was the first settlement that was made by the god Enki, who was the founder of Sumerian civilization. Magan was famous among the Sumerians as a place whence they got diorite and copper, Meluhha as a place whence they got gold. Dilmun has been identified with some place or other in the Persian Gulf, perhaps the Bahrein Islands, perhaps a land on the eastern shore of the Gulf. In a late inscription of the Assyrians it is said that Magan and Meluhha were the archaic names for Egypt and Ethiopia, the latter being the south-western part of Somaliand that lay opposite.” (The Growth of Civilization, pp. 60“61, 2nd Edition, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England, 1937, Published by Penguin Books, Ltd.)
Published June 7 2015 – By Dalya Alberge
British archaeology team uncovers stunning Aksumite and Roman artefacts
Spectacular 2,000-year-old treasures from the Roman empire and the Aksumite kingdom, which ruled parts of north-east Africa for several centuries before 940AD, have been discovered by British archaeologists in northern Ethiopia.
Louise Schofield, a former British Museum curator, headed a major six-week excavation of the ancient city of Aksum where her team of 11 uncovered graves with “extraordinary” artefacts dating from the first and second centuries. They offer evidence that the Romans were trading there hundreds of years earlier than previously thought.
Schofield told the Observer: “Every day we had shed-loads of treasure coming out of all the graves. I was blown away: I’d been confident we’d find something, but not on this scale.”
She was particularly excited about the grave of a woman she has named “Sleeping Beauty”. The way the body and its grave goods had been positioned suggest that she had been beautiful and much-loved.
Schofield said: “She was curled up on her side, with her chin resting on her hand, wearing a beautiful bronze ring. She was buried gazing into an extraordinary Roman bronze mirror. She had next to her a beautiful and incredibly ornate bronze cosmetics spoon with a lump of kohl eyeliner.”
The woman was also wearing a necklace of thousands of tiny beads, and a beaded belt. The quality of the jewellery suggests that she was a person of very high status, able to command the very best luxurious goods. Other artefacts with her include Roman glass vessels – two perfectly preserved drinking beakers and a flask to catch the tears of the dead.
There was also a clay jug. Schofield hopes that its contents can be analysed. She believes it would have contained food and drink for the afterlife.
Although “Sleeping Beauty” was covered only with soil, her grave was cut into a rock overhang, which is why the finds survived intact.
The team also found buried warriors, with each skeleton wearing large iron bangles. They may have been killed in nearby battlefields.
Other finds include another female skeleton with a valuable necklace of 1,065 coloured glass beads, and, elsewhere, a striking glass perfume flask.
In 2012, the Observer reported that Schofield’s earlier excavations in the region had discovered an ancient goldmine that may solve the mystery of from where the Queen of Sheba of biblical legend derived her fabled treasures.
Aksum, the capital of the Aksumite kingdom, was a major trading power from the first to the seventh centuries, linking the Roman Empire and India. Aksumites were a literate people. Yet little is known about this so-called “lost”’ civilisation.
“Ethiopia is a mysterious place steeped in legend, but nobody knows very much about it,” said Schofield. “We know from the later Aksumite period – the fourth and fifth centuries, when they adopted Christianity – that they were trading very intensely with Rome. But our finds are from much earlier. So it shows that extraordinarily precious things were travelling from the Roman Empire through this region centuries before.”
In return, the Romans sought ivory tusks, frankincense and metals. Schofield’s excavations also found evidence of iron working.
The finds will go to a new German-funded museum, opening in October. Schofield hopes to organise a loan to the British Museum, but first the finds must be conserved: the mirror, for example, is corroded and slightly buckled. Germany is sending nine conservators.
Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/luxury/travel/72794/divine-ethiopia-religion-churches-and-incredible-travel-sights.html (May 29th 2015 by Stanley Stewart)
Ethiopia “resembles no other country in Africa”, wrote the great explorer Wilfred Thesiger, “or anywhere else.”
Sunday Service in the church of Abuna Yemata Guh requires nerves of steel. Yet they assured me the congregations were good. “Don’t worry,” the priest fussed. “Pregnant women are attending, old people are attending, tiny children are attending.”
I wasn’t sure I would be attending. I was standing on a narrow ledge. Below me was a 1,000ft drop to the valley floor. Somewhere above me, beyond a sheer polished cliff, was the church. My legs felt like water. I was sweating in places I had never sweated before. At that moment, the eye of a needle seemed easier to negotiate. “You must try,” the priest whispered. “God is watching.”
There are moments when Ethiopia seems to belong to an atlas of the imagination – part legend, part fairy-tale, part Old Testament book, part pulling your leg. In this land of wonders there are medieval castles of a black Camelot, monasteries among Middle Earth peaks accessible only by rope and chains, the ruined palace of the Queen of Sheba and the original Ten Commandments in a sealed box guarded by mute monks with killer instincts.
In the northern highlands priests with white robes and shepherds’ crooks appear to have stepped out of a Biblical painting. In the southern river valleys bare-breasted tribeswomen, who scar their torsos for erotic effect and insert plates the size of table mats in their lower lips, seemed to have emerged from a National Geographic magazine circa 1930. Ethiopia “resembles no other country in Africa”, wrote the great explorer Wilfred Thesiger, “or anywhere else.”
Its isolation is legendary. Not only was Ethiopia never colonised, but it also inflicted the greatest defeat on a European army in the history of the continent – at the Battle of Adwa in 1896. It was only the Italians, of course, but it still counts. Ethiopians were “forgetful of the world”, Edward Gibbon wrote, “by whom they were forgotten”. For long medieval centuries Europeans believed that Ethiopia was home to Prester John, legendary Christian ruler, descendant of one of the three Magi, keeper of the Fountain of Youth, protector of the Holy Grail, and all-round good guy who would one day rescue the Holy Land from the Muslims.
Crossing the threshold of the church of Medhane Alem in Lalibela , I seemed to step back a thousand years. Cut by shafts of dusty light from high windows, the interior gloom was scented with frankincense. I came round a pillar to find a dozen priests leaning on their croziers, chanting in Ge’ez , a language no one has spoken since the Middle Ages. The sound was a curious cross between Gregorian plainsong and a nasal Arabic call to prayer. These were among the earliest Christian rites, unchanged for well over 1,500 years. Worshippers sat on the ground against the bare stone walls, wearing clothes that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Book of Genesis. They gazed mournfully at a pair of threadbare theatrical curtains. Beyond the curtains lay the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies , which held the Ark of the Covenant .
For a country with so much to offer, it is surprising to find tourism in Ethiopia still in its infancy. The war and famine of the 1970s and 80s, though now almost ancient history, may be partly responsible. But a deeper issue may be a feature of the national character – a lack of entrepreneurial urgency. Ethiopia may not be big on stylish boutiques hotels, littered with objets d’art and architectural magazines, but it is a delightfully old-fashioned place, with ravishing landscapes, sleepy villages and friendly, unhurried people.
It is difficult to pick a single destination from Ethiopia’s treasure chest, but first-time visitors shouldn’t miss Lalibela and its remarkable churches, all below ground level, and all carved from the rock as entire buildings with surrounding courtyards, exterior walls and roofs. Historians are uncertain about much of their history but Ethiopians have a handle on it. A celestial team of angels came in at night to help out after the terrestrial workforce had clocked off.
There are always two histories in Ethiopia: the history of historians, sometimes a trifle vague, often tentative; and the history of Ethiopians, a people’s history, confident, detailed, splendid, often fantastical. The two rarely coincide. Historians are still wringing their hands about the mysteries of Aksum in Tigray in the north, with its colossal stelae, its underground tombs, its ruined palaces and its possible connections to the Queen of Sheba. For a thousand years, until about AD 700, it was a dominant power in the region, “the last of the great civilisations of antiquity”, according to Neville Chittick , the archaeologist, “to be revealed to modern knowledge”.
Fortunately, the Ethiopians are on hand to fill in most of the historical blanks. The city was founded, they say, by the great-grandson of Noah. For 400 years it was ruled by a serpent who enjoyed a diet of milk and virgins. Historians may be divided about the Queen of Sheba but Ethiopians know she set off from here to Jerusalem with 797 camels and lot of rather racy lingerie to seduce King Solomon. Historians carelessly lost track of the Ten Commandments not long after Moses came down from Mount Sinai. Ethiopians have the originals under lock and key in a chapel in Aksum, guarded by those mute monks, assigned to kill all intruders.
The landscapes of Tigray are appropriately Biblical. It is a world where everything comes and goes by foot or hoof, a world of timeless villages perched beneath vast mesas and plunging ravines, a world where it is possible to imagine startling young men turning water into wine. With my bag loaded onto a Palm Sunday donkey, I set off on a three-day walk down the Erar Valley . I strolled through the latticed shade of eucalyptus trees, past scented banks of sage and mint, past stands of prickly pear and neatly ploughed fields framed by irrigation channels. I rested under the shade of vast fig trees beneath colonies of hornbills, bee-eaters and firefinches. A man in a white robe was winnowing wheat, tossing yellow forkfuls into the air, allowing the wind to take the chaff. Children ghosted out of orchards with home-made toys: a ball of goatskin and twine, a doll of twigs and wool. In the late morning I passed people coming back from the weekly market, two hours’ walk away. They were carrying some of life’s essentials: bags of rice, new sickles, bolts of bright cloth, blocks of salt that had come up from the Danakil Desert by camel caravan. Everyone stopped to greet me with handshakes and smiles.
The trek was part of a new community project. The guides and the transport – my faithful donkey – were provided by local villagers who, with the help of NGOs, have also built hedamos, or guesthouses. There is something special about these Tigrayan guesthouses – their location. Tigray is a mountainous region, characterised by ambas: dramatic, sheer-sided, flat-topped mountains. Most of the treks are easygoing, following the valley floors through pastoral landscapes. But towards the end of each day I started to climb with the guide, following steep paths along narrow rising ledges, to the summits of these anvil-headed ambas.
On the top, we emerged into a whole new world of luminous light and distant views. Here we found our home for the night, the community hedamo, perched in splendid isolation on the lip of a colossal escarpment, perhaps 3,000ft above the landscapes below. The views were breathtaking. We looked straight down, past circling eagles, to the world we had just left – ploughed fields, stone tukuls, eddying sheep, tiny white-robed figures trailing along dust lanes. Farther away, rivers carved swathes of ancient earth, canyons yawned open and valleys tumbled into one another. Farther still, mountains patrolled the horizons. With a slight turn of the head, I took in hundreds of miles.
At Erar and Shimbrety , the stone-built guesthouses, with their little courtyards and roof terraces, were comfortable but basic. Village women prepared delicious Ethiopian dinners that made little concession to Western tastes. The loos, Western-style, were in spartan huts. Washing facilities were wooden buckets of warm water. There was no electricity, just lanterns and candles. Yet these felt like the most luxurious places I had ever stayed. It was the luxury of unique experience, of meeting local villagers on their own ground, of engaging with an ancient way of life, of being far from tourism’s well-trodden trails. And it was the luxury of spectacular location. I have never been anywhere with more stunning views.
At Erar, night came with equatorial suddenness. A troop of gelada baboons , 30 or so strong, made their way home across the summit of the amba after a day’s feeding. They climbed down over the edge of the escarpment to precipitous ledges where they would be safe from leopards. The sun set over distant, mythical-looking mountains. When I turned round, a fat full moon was rising directly behind me. The world seemed to be in perfect balance.
Tigray, too, has its remarkable buildings. Scattered across these mountains are more than 120 ancient churches, most excavated in remote rock-faces like caves. Until the 1960s they were virtually unknown to the outside world. Older than the churches at Lalibela, they are little understood by historians. Which means we are left with the fabulous oral history of the Ethiopians.
Abuna Yemata Guh is one of the more challenging churches to reach. A rock butte soared above us; I was getting a crick in my neck and a serious case of vertigo just looking at it. I imagined, as with the sheer-sided ambas, that there would be some circuitous path, some scrambling route to the top. It was only when we had trekked up from the valley floor and gained the narrow ledge that I began to realise I was going to have to climb a cliff-face, in fact several cliff-faces, to get to church.
A priest was waiting on the ledge, with the kind of morbid face usually reserved for the last rites. He advised me to remove my shoes and socks; bare feet would give me a better grip. It turned out that two men, who I had assumed to be casual passers-by, were in fact there to try to prevent me from plummeting to my death.
We started to climb. My two assistants, one above and one below, guided me to precarious foot- and hand-holds. This was rock climbing without the ropes, the safety harness or the Chris Bonington confidence. Spread-eagled on the cliff-face, clinging to the minor indentations that passed for handholds, I felt a trifle out of my comfort zone. Had I know what was in for, I would probably not have chosen Abuna Yemata Guh for a casual visit.
But once I reached it, I was thrilled I had. The climb might be hair-raising but the church is unmissable.
At the top of the cliff, not daring to look down, I gazed ahead, just in time to see a side-chamber full of bones – the priest insisted they were deceased clerics, not fallen visitors. Then I shuffled along a narrow ledge and came to a cave-like opening. The priest wrestled with a key the size of a cricket bat. A door opened and I stepped into the gloom of the tiny church, hardly larger than a modest drawing room. As my eyes adjusted, I became aware of faces round the walls. Then the priest lit a torch and held it aloft. Suddenly the dark walls were alive with figures: apostles and saints, prophets and the archangels, Mary and the infant Christ. The famous Nine Saints from the Levant , who had brought Christianity to Ethiopia in the fifth century, were here, as was Saint Yared, who wrote so many of the early Ethiopian chants. The builder of this cliff church was here, Abu Yemata, mounted on a horse and accompanied by his nephew Benjamin, who had painted the murals.
The priest, a humble villager, told me the stories that swarmed across these walls. He told the stories as they had been told to him, as they had been handed down from one priest to the next from the earliest days of the Christian era. He referred to the apostles as if they were old friends. He talked of the saints as if they were men who had known his grandparents. He told me about the groom who had neglected Yemata’s horse. Yemata had turned him into a weasel. There, he said, bringing his torch near to the wall, illuminating a small weasel-headed man beneath the horse.
I asked why the church was here, so difficult to access, so high in these cliffs. The priest said it was for reasons of safety – it may well have been built when Christianity was still vulnerable. Then he added: “We are closer to God here, away from our world, and closer to His.” He lifted an ancient text enclosed in an ox-hide satchel from a nail on the wall. He asked if he should say prayers. I said I thought a few words might be a good idea. After all, I still had to get down that cliff-face.
May 8th 2015 by Steven Kaplan
The Ethiopians [in Israel] will remain in the anomalous situation of both having entered the Promised Land and continuing to wander in the desert. Forty years may not be long enough this time.
Anyone viewing the recent clashes between Ethiopian-Israeli demonstrators and local policemen in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv could not help being reminded of similar scenes taking place barely a week earlier in Baltimore. Such a clear visual link between events in two such disparate places cannot but be viewed as further testimony to the power of satellite news and globalized media. We should, however, proceed cautiously in comparing the two situation or reactions of the parties involved.
Israel’s Ethiopian population is of fairly recent origin. Beginning in 1977, small groups began to make their way to Israel through Sudan or other countries. (At the time, Israel had no diplomatic relations with Ethiopia’s Marxist military regime.) Dramatic airlifts from Sudan (1984 and ’85) and on the eve of the fall of the Marxist government (1991) brought thousands into the country. After 1991, tens of thousands more arrived. Many of these immigrants spent years in transition camps in Ethiopia while Israeli politicians debated whether descendants and relatives of those brought into the country as Jews also had the right to make aliyah (literally “to ascend”) to Israel.
Today the Ethiopian population stands at about 135,000, over a third of whom were born in Israel or arrived in the country as small children. Despite plenty of good intentions (and we all know where those lead), their integration (what is called in Israel absorption) has not been easy.
While the immediate catalyst for the latest eruption of rage was the beating of an Ethiopian soldier caught on video, there are clearly deeper structural issues at stake. Although there have been clear improvements in school performance, high school completion, employment and almost every other quantifiable measure, Ethiopians still lag behind most of the country in educational achievement and income. Moreover, while the percentage of Ethiopians who serve in the military is higher than for the general population (and in Israel this is considered a badge of success), the percentage who complete their service is comparatively low. Despite official rulings in their favor, large parts of the powerful rabbinic establishment still question the Jewishness of the Ethiopians. Almost every school year begins with “crises” as one school or another refuses to accept its planned number of Ethiopian students.
Although it is often said that Israel is the first country to bring in people of African descent not to enslave them but to grant them equal rights as citizens, the truth is much more complex. Ethiopians were brought to Israel not merely to have equal rights but to be part of the dominant Jewish majority. Perhaps the most persistent testimony to this is that virtually any statistic available from government and nongovernment sources regarding the Ethiopians compares them not with the population as a whole but to other Jews.
For purposes of comparison, the 20 percent of the population that is Arab is invisible, and the success or failure of the Ethiopians is measured against only their Jewish counterparts. Thus while the campaigns on behalf of the Ethiopians are often voiced in terms of universal human rights, they often have a much narrower focus: equality with other Israeli Jews.
According to polls, Israelis overwhelmingly acknowledge that Ethiopians are discriminated against. This is commendable and in sharp contrast to the United States, where denial about racial discrimination is still common. At least in part, the Israeli anti-racist consensus is convenient because it limits itself to Jewish Ethiopian-Israelis.
Thus one can be anti-racist on the one hand and on the other ignore or take part in the ongoing pernicious discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel (leaving the territories out of the equation for the moment) or African migrants. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who infamously warned of “droves” of Arab voters going to the polls during the recent election, was quick to chime in condemning the latest mistreatment of Ethiopians. “We must stand together as one against the phenomenon of racism, to denounce it and eliminate it,” he said.
Similarly, the Orthodox Sephardi party Shas has been among the most welcoming to the Ethiopians, while depicting African migrants as infiltrators who pose “no less a threat than a nuclear Iran,” as onetime party leader Eli Yishai put it. In a 2012 poll, more than 50 percent of Israelis surveyed agreed with the statement that African migrants are a “cancer on the body of the nation.” The same poll indicated that fully a third condoned violence against the migrants. Small wonder that at least some of the anti-Ethiopian violence in Israel appears to begin when police mistook Ethiopians for the “wrong” kind of African — Sudanese or Eritreans.
That said, there is no arguing that the situation of Ethiopians in Israel is difficult. Many suffer from daily slights and discrimination. Moreover, they are underrepresented in the country’s universities and key industries and overrepresented in its jails and prisons. Many are stuck in Israel’s periphery in small towns, which have poor schools and limited employment opportunities.
If past incidents are any indication, the latest uproar will quickly pass after the requisite handwringing and public statements. The policemen involved have already been either fired or suspended, and the political leaders have voiced their condemnation. The Israeli Ministry of Education immediately put forward age-appropriate lesson plans on racism and violence.
Doubtless money will be found for cultural awareness programs, for recruitment of Ethiopian officers and for research, which will be call for more programs, more recruitment and more research. The beating of the soldier will be added to the cumulative song (think “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly”) of injustices done to Ethiopian Israelis, all of which will be dutifully recited the next time their mistreatment becomes public.
Meanwhile, the Ethiopians will remain in the anomalous situation of both having entered the Promised Land and continuing to wander in the desert. Forty years may not be long enough this time.
Interview with Ethiopian-Israeli lawyer and community activist Emmanuel Melese Hadana
April 11, 2015, by Gary Quinn
You can find poverty in Ethiopia, of course, but look a little deeper and you’ll find there’s a great richness too – cultural, historical and human. You can ignore it but you might come to regret it. Seek it out and I’d suggest it will pay back forever.
I’m crazy about Ethiopia. It’s exciting and elegant and stuffed full of history and drama. It offers vast distances between its remarkable tourist sites so, for a traveller like me who wants to get lost in the journey, it’s a fascinating place to visit and one that’s rapidly changing. It’s six years since my last trip here and change is everywhere.
I’m in a minibus heaving with European journalists, cutting down through the Ethiopian section of the Rift Valley towards the Bale Mountains. It’s an eight-hour drive from the capital Addis Ababa, if we don’t take pit stops – but that’s unlikely in a country as surprising and eye-catching as this.
There are deep blue crater lakes to explore, buzzards flying overhead, lush pastures and dark forest alongside us and great restaurants and brand new vineyards to visit. And that’s before we make it to the mountains themselves and all that they offer.
Ethiopian tourism is expanding rapidly and the country is working hard to contain it. The whole world seems to want to be here right now. Two of my travelling companions work for Lonely Planet and the Rough Guides. Both publications gave Ethiopia their vote of confidence recently, putting it among the top tourist destinations in the world you need to see right now.
Beyond tourism, countries such as China, Turkey, the US, the UK and others are investing heavily in a country that is stuffed full of potential. The hotels of Addis buzz with the sound of business being done.
It’s a safe country for tourism, well managed and with a young, educated workforce striving to educate the world that there’s a country and a culture that runs much deeper than old headlines might suggest. After all, 30 years and a lot of political and economic change has washed over Ethiopia since the famine of 1984.
Ethiopians are proud and relaxed. Men of all rank and association walk hand-in- hand in the street. A shoulder bump, that I couldn’t quite master, is the greeting of choice among friends, male and female.
Some say their natural pride comes from the fact that as a country they were never colonised like their African neighbours, others from the fact that they can chart their history back to the birth of man. More again claim it’s just the Ethiopian way – elegance comes from within they say: simply enjoy it for what it is.
The main goal for the engine behind tourism right now is increasing the standards in accommodation, guides and transport infrastructure. Ethiopian Airlines operates an extensive internal flight network making it easier to travel around this country of 90 million people – an essential service since the distances to be travelled can be vast and the roads network still developing. The airline has also recently partnered with Ethiopian Holidays to offer tailor- made packages with experienced guides and great accommodation. There are also many independent tour companies with extensive experience such as Ethiopian Quadrants, run by Irishman Tony Hickey.
The standard of resorts is increasing quickly. Back on the road to Bale we overnight in the Kuriftu Resort and Spa Debra Zeit, one of a group of luxury resorts clustered around one of the crater lakes that make this part of the country so attractive.
Our individual bungalows are thatched and huge while the swimming pool and restaurant overlook sapphire-blue water where pelicans drift slowly behind fishing boats on the lake. It’s a remarkable location, calm and lush with incredible food and wonderful staff.
The next day we travel onward towards Bale and take a pitstop in Bekoji – a small Ethiopian highlands town that has produced some of the greatest distance runners in the world, including Tirunesh Dibaba, Kenenisa Bekele and Derartu Tulu.
Traffic passes and children stare and I try to figure out why so many Olympic medals have been brought home here. The high altitude helps and the great coaching, but the story of Bekoji and its track record is bigger than that. Perhaps, like Ethiopia in general, the people are simply ambitious enough to win, or maybe they’re destined to do so.
The sun is setting as we finally cross into the Bale mountains national park, casting triumphant colours across the horizon. We’re in the Ethiopian highlands surrounded by some of the highest peaks in Africa. A magnificent lightening storm is chasing us from a distance and as night falls and the terrain gets rougher the sense of adventure is palpable.
Thunder snaps in the air as our driver navigates a route across the plateau shaped by rains and deep crevices. The rainy season in the mountains lasts from June to September creating a colder climate than you would expect and you’ll be glad you packed warm clothes. Bale is a biological hotspot in Africa. There are more than 280 different bird species, 82 different mammals and 1,600 plants, 10 per cent of which are endemic to Bale.
While Ethiopia doesn’t claim to compete with its neighbour Kenya for tourist access to wildlife, there is a huge amount to see and experience and we were heading to the very best place to help do that: the Bale Mountain Lodge.
This is a luxury eco-lodge nestled among virgin forest and high peaks. It was opened by Englishman Guy Levene in late 2013 and is a good example of how to build sustainable tourism facilities in the wild. There are only eight guestrooms and in fact they’re not just rooms, rather individual bungalows, each isolated from each other at various heights and looking out on the forest. Some have outdoor showers, some have glorious balconies and all offer five- star accommodation.
Not surprisingly, there’s an Irishman involved. Mark Megarry, a Belfast man, is the lodge manager. He has spent two years away from his usual home in Uganda managing the building of the mountain lodge. The pride of everyone involved is great to see. Local people are trained to work in all aspects of tourism and local materials are used for all building, bringing us closer to understanding our surroundings.
This isn’t a lounge-by-the-pool resort. It’s a get up close to nature and breathe it all in kind of place – although there’s a beautiful natural pool under a waterfall in the forest if you do feel the need for a swim.
Our roundtrip the next day takes us back across the plateau. We spot an Ethiopian wolf, one of only two wolf species living in Africa and one of the rarest canids in the world. Families of warthogs, antelope, mountain nyala and, later in the lower grasslands, families of monkeys flank our route. The views are exceptional and wild.
We finally arrive at our last stop: Haile resort in Hawassa, a low- rise resort-style hotel owned and managed by the great Ethiopian runner and Olympian, Haile Gebrselassie. It surprises us all with its international style and warm welcome. Standing on my balcony I can look out on the magnificent Halesse lake, packed with wildlife and try to spot the families of hippos that live there.
Human life here is rich with adventure. A wedding party pass on horseback. The bride, veiled and dressed in vibrant colour, is led up one side of a hill to meet her husband for the first time who approaches, also on horseback, with a party of men from the other side of the hill. Churches and mosques dot the landscape, shantytowns and cafes, farms and schools. Children run along the road calling out, families till the land around us. Crowds throng the cities, cinemas fill and empty, music is everywhere. People eat and walk and dance and live their lives like every country in the world.
You can find poverty in Ethiopia, of course, but look a little deeper and you’ll find there’s a great richness too – cultural, historical and human. You can ignore it but you might come to regret it. Seek it out and I’d suggest it will pay back forever.